The UK is an “innovation follower,” according to new data from the European Commission, which also finds that Sweden is the European Union (EU)’s most innovative nation, followed by Denmark, Germany and Finland, the four countries that invest most in research and innovation.

The UK shares its “follower” status - with an innovation performance above or close to that of the EU average - with Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia, says the Commission’s latest Innovation Scoreboard.

The UK’s innovation performance improved strongly in 2009 and 2010 - following a decline in 2008 - and this improved performance was particularly due to the increase in collaborative activities by innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), says the Scoreboard. But since 2010, UK innovation performance has been “stable,” with a small decline in 2013.

The report finds the UK’s relative strengths in innovation to be in international scientific co-publications and in innovative SMEs collaborating with others - where performance in terms of growth has improved most - and also in new doctorate graduates. Its relative weaknesses are in sales share of new innovations and SMEs with product and/or process innovations; in both areas, the report sees strong declines in growth.

The region’s innovation leader, Sweden, is performing above the EU average for most indicators, and especially for international scientific co-publications, R&D expenditures in the business sector, public-private scientific co-publications and Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) patent applications in societal challenges. Its relative weaknesses are in sales share of new innovations and knowledge-intensive services exports, the Commission reports.

It also sees high growth in Sweden for Community trademarks and non-EU doctorate students, but strong declines in growth for venture capital investments and sales share of new innovations.

The EU is closing its innovation gap with the US and Japan, but differences in performance between European member states are still high and the regional gap is in fact widening. Overall progress has been driven by the openness and attractiveness of the EU research system, business innovation collaboration and the commercialisation of knowledge, as measured by license and patent revenues from abroad, says the Scoreboard, but it also finds that growth in public R&D expenditure in the EU has been offset by a decline in venture capital investment and non-R&D innovation investment in companies.

- “Moderate” innovators – whose performance is below that of the EU average – are Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovaka and Spain, while “modest” innovators – well below the EU average – are Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania, according to the Scoreboard.  The countries whose position has improved the most are Portugal, Estonia and Latvia, it adds.