Mapping the landscape of international technology diffusion (1994–2017): network analysis of transnational patents

  • Wei Yang
  • Xiang YuEmail author
  • Ben Zhang
  • Ziyang Huang


Global economic integration is driving countries and companies to increasingly pursue internationalized innovation activities. During this process, transnational patents are thought to play a vital role in protecting inventions and innovations abroad. This study investigates the structure of international technology diffusion and its evolution using transnational patent networks (TPNs) during the 1994–2017 period. The analyses are conducted using topological structures, centrality rankings, a three-layer visualization analysis (global, contextual and ego) and a block modeling analysis assisted by measures from social network analysis. The major findings are as follows: (1) TPNs present clear small-world phenomena, and the countries in the networks tend to establish more connections with other countries over time; (2) TPNs exhibit a highly uneven distribution in degree centrality and betweenness centrality, indicating a conspicuous global hierarchical structure of patent-expanding capabilities in various countries; (3) three-layer landscapes of TPNs illustrate the extreme imbalance in the ability of expanding transnational patents between South and North countries; (4) four blocks that play different roles in TPNs are distinguished, i.e., source, broker, beginner and absorber; and (5) 22 countries with high betweenness rankings achieve block-level transitions; among these countries, China and Singapore are highly typical examples. This paper argues that developed countries are actively using the monopoly power granted by transnational patents to shape a new world system. This study concludes with a discussion of policy implications for developing countries.


International technology diffusion Transnational patents Social network analysis Intellectual property rights World system 

JEL Classification

N30 O33 O34 R11 R12 



The authors would like to thank the support from Open Foundation of ISTIC-CLARIVATE ANALYTICS Joint Laboratory for Scientometrics (No. H20180166) and National Social Science Foundation of China (No. 15BTQ047).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese-German Institute for Intellectual Property, School of ManagementHuazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST)WuhanChina
  2. 2.Sino-European Institute for Intellectual PropertyHUSTWuhanChina

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