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Venture Capital and Startup Innovation-- Big Data Analysis of Patent Data --

March 12, 2021
WASHIMI Kazuaki
Financial Markets Department
Bank of Japan

Abstract

With the declining birthrate and ageing population and a decline in the working age population in Japan, Japanese firms face the need to strengthen innovation including the digital domain. Expectations are particularly high for startups as they play a vital role in creating innovative technology. In recent years, there have been a number of initiatives such as expediting patent examinations and introducing an open innovation tax incentive in Japan. It is expected that venture capital (VC) funds will play a pivotal role in providing financing for growth so that startups can continue research and development. On the other hand, due in part to data constraints, there has been limited research on startup innovation on a comprehensive scale and virtually no earlier literature on the impact of VC investments on innovation by portfolio companies in Japan. This paper summarizes those two issues with a focus on the number of patent applications as a proxy for innovation, and it also discusses challenges that lie ahead.

First, taking a look at patent applications by startups, around 40 percent of startups have applied for a patent--albeit with significant variation across firms--which appears a much higher proportion than existing firms. An estimate of the impact of VC investments on innovation suggests that in about 60 percent of cases, the number of patent applications by portfolio companies significantly increased compared to a control group. While care should be taken in interpreting those studies as the results vary from firm to firm, these successful cases reflect the possibility that financing and management support including intellectual property management from VC funds could have contributed to an increase in patent applications. Challenges ahead include: (1) expanding investments in VC funds by institutional investors; (2) increasing opportunities for startups to go public in a way that encourages sustainable growth; and (3) establishing intellectual property strategies while maintaining and developing professional human resources in relevant areas.

  • I would like to thank the staff of the Bank of Japan for their helpful comments. The opinions expressed here as well as any remaining errors are those of the author and should not be ascribed to the Bank of Japan. This paper is an English translation of the original Japanese released in March, 2021.

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