The Value of Ideas…

September 13, 2010

The Worldmapper Project at the University of Sheffield publishes world maps on which territories are re-sized to illustrate a the subject of interest.  They’re up to 700 so far, covering topics that range from income and educations levels, to internet users and greenhouse gases…

They are all worth a browse, as each highlights realities and relationships that weren’t before as apparent as Worldmapper makes them.  But one in particular stand out:

Royalties And License Fees Exports

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide net exports of royalties and license fees (in US$) that come from there. Net exports are exports minus imports. When imports are larger than exports the territory is not shown.

Only 18 (out of 200) territories are net exporters of license fees and royalties. This means that a few people living in less than a tenth of the territories in the world between them receive the US$30 billion of net export earnings for these services.

The International Monetary Fund explained that royalties and license fees include “international payments and receipts for the authorised use of intangible, non-produced, non-financial assets and proprietary rights … and with the use, through licensing agreements, of produced originals or prototypes …”. Thus these export earnings are payments for past ideas.

These fees are, of course, the result of creative and technological leadership over the years past; at a net $30 Billion, they’re not that big a part of total global flows– they are dwarfed by the proceeds that those same creative and technological leaders earn from direct sales abroad…  but they are the avatar of commercial leadership, a kind of “tribute” paid to an economic emperor.

This isn’t lost on those emerging markets who don’t (yet) appear on the map; indeed, they want theirs. (Consider, for example, China, as explained in Mary Kay Magistad’s award-winning series for The World.)

So there’s no question why “increasing innovation in emerging markets” is a main theme at the World Economic Forum’s “Summer Davos” in Tianjin (from whence, this post).  Rather, given that focus and the energy behind it (and indeed, given the force of gravity), the question is:  how will this map look in 2020?  2030?

(TotH to Robert Krulwich for the lead to Worldmapper.)

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