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The World's Most Innovative Countries

Rich countries dominate a ranking of the world's most innovative countries released in the U.S. today. But the report also reveals what could be surprises in its examination of innovation by a variety of measures.

Switzerland, Sweden and the U.K. top the Global Innovation Index for 2013, the central ranking of an annual report. The U.S. was the fifth most innovative economy, according to the report, which is published by Cornell University, the World Intellectual Property Organization and graduate school INSEAD. Here are the top 10 most innovative economies:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Sweden
  3. U.K.
  4. Netherlands
  5. U.S.
  6. Finland
  7. Hong Kong (China)
  8. Singapore
  9. Denmark
  10. Ireland

“Innovation results today still remain fairly highly correlated with income levels,” says Soumitra Dutta, an editor of the report, at a meeting on the report’s release in New York City this morning. “The difference between the richer, high-income economies and the lower-income economies is fairly significant.” The top 25 most innovative economies are all nearly the same from years past. While the rankings have shifted in the past three years, there have been no newcomers to the echelon of the top 25, says Dutta.

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The report measures 84 criteria for 142 economies. It looks at five "input" categories: institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication and business sophistication, and "outputs," which are categorized as either knowledge and technology or creative outputs.

While the rich economies produce more innovation, if total innovation output is divided by input, the list of leading innovative countries looks very different. These countries are those that are doing the most with what they have. Here are the top 10 most efficient innovative economies:

  1. Mali
  2. The Republic of Moldova
  3. Guinea
  4. Malta
  5. Swaziland
  6. Indonesia
  7. Nigeria
  8. Kuwait
  9. Costa Rica
  10. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Another measure of an economy's innovation is whether it outperforms its income group. By this scale, the following countries are considered to be rising stars on the innovation spectrum: the Republic of Moldova, China, India, Uganda, Armenia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Jordan, Mongolia, Mali, Kenya, Senegal, Hungary, Georgia, Montenegro, Costa Rica, Tajikistan and Latvia.

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National leaders' attitudes about innovation are paramount to progress, says Dutta.

“If the mindset is not there, you are unable to actually act on the multiple different factors required to move the country up on the various factors of innovation,” Dutta says.

What's more, to drive innovation, a country must have a pool of educated workers. “The core ingredient behind innovation is talent,” he says.

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Catherine Clifford is a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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