New figures released by the Office for National Statistics today have revealed that investment in R&D in the UK has continued its long-term upward trend – reaching a new record of £37.1bn in 2018, an increase of 6.6% on the previous year.
Importantly, the figures also show a small improvement in the amount of money invested in R&D as a proportion of UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The amount of money invested represented 1.71% of GDP in 2018, but still trailed that of countries such as Germany and Sweden, where the level of investment was more than 3% of GDP.
Reacting to the news, Karl Barnfather, chairman of European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers, said: “The headline figures highlight the strides that have been taken to develop key areas of science such as digital tech, AI and biotech innovation in the UK economy. However, these figures must be viewed in the context of COVID-19 and the immense challenges that society is now facing.
“The recent Budget announcements were very promising indeed, with the Government promising to step up R&D expenditure; doubling investment to £22bn and opening a central research centre, modelled on DARPA in the US. Such investment should help to close the gap that exists between the UK and some other countries when it comes to the amount of money being invested as a proportion of GDP. However, the severity of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means such investments could now be delayed.
“COVID-19 has not put a stop to innovation however, far from it. Tech entrepreneurs, corporate R&D teams and university research departments across the UK have been working hard to develop technologies to help the world to survive and cope with the conditions we are facing. From the Mercedes F1 team joining forces with University College London to develop a new breathing aid, to owners of 3D printers offering to make respirator valves and pharmaceutical companies waiving their IP rights in the race to develop a vaccine or antibody test, there are examples of innovation everywhere.
“Just as WW2 is remembered for inventions such as penicillin and radar technology, it is highly likely that 2020 will be remembered for technologies developed to help fight pandemic disease outbreaks – isolation units, mobility tracking tools and many more. UK innovators are very much part of this fight and stand to reap the benefits of this effort in the future.”