The innovative collaboration network from 2011 to 2021 based on jointly owned patents in China included 144 hospitals and 197 biomedical enterprises, and it involved 460 connections. Patents jointly owned by hospitals and biomedical enterprises were few, especially in less-developed regions. Patents related to the G01N, C12N, and A61K classifications were the most popular for ensuring innovative collaboration. The overall levels of network density, collaborative frequency, and network cohesion were significantly low. Hospitals are in a leading position and have stronger initiatives pertaining to ensuring innovative collaboration. A biomedical enterprise in Shenzhen has the highest degree, betweenness, and closeness centralities. In China, there is no obvious core actor in the innovative collaboration network between hospitals and the biomedical industry.
Although the level of innovative collaboration between hospitals and the biomedical industry in China remains low, the attention paid to innovative collaboration keeps increasing. Additionally, the overall quantitative tendency of patents keeps increasing. However, it dropped in 2021, and this aspect may be attributed to the incomplete data resulting from the delayed publication of some patents. Nonetheless, jointly applied patents were far fewer than the total in the field of biomedicine owing to the following reasons. First, in China, there is a large gap in innovative collaboration between hospitals and the biomedical industry between various regions with different levels of economic development. The evidence indicates that the number of patents might be correlated with the level of regional economic development. Therefore, investments or policy support should be encouraged in less-developed regions to ensure innovative collaboration between hospitals and the biomedical industry, thereby promoting development in such regions. Second, research statistics suggest that the transformation rate of hospitals, even in developed regions of China, such as Shanghai, is only 3%, which is extremely lower than the international transformation rate of approximately 30–50%. Furthermore, low transformation rates are associated with low densities and frequencies of innovative collaboration networks between hospitals and the biomedical industry. Third, evidence showed that in China, there are only 5% primary drugs among all the approved biological drugs. Investments from biomedical enterprises aiming to fund innovative research are significantly low, and this attribute hinders the actualization of an innovative collaboration between hospitals and the biomedical industry. However, such investments must satisfy the requirements associated with both the scale and capital strength of biomedical enterprises. According to a study conducted in the United States, the median research and development investment for a new drug was $985.3 million, and the mean investment was $1.336 billion. Moreover, over the recent years, the levels of investment required to ensure innovative research from both public and private sources keep increasing, thereby suggesting the potential for creating innovative collaboration networks between hospitals and biomedical enterprises.
According to IPC analysis, the most jointly owned biomedical patents in China are those involving the G01N (investigating or analyzing materials by determining their chemical or physical properties), C12N (microorganisms or enzymes; compositions thereof; propagating, preserving, or maintaining microorganisms; mutation or genetic engineering; culture media), A61K (preparations for medical, dental, or toilet purposes), A61P (specific therapeutic activity of chemical compounds or medicinal preparations), and C12Q (measuring or testing processes involving enzymes, nucleic acids or microorganisms; compositions or test papers thereof; processes of preparing such compositions; condition-responsive control in microbiological or enzymological processes) classifications. These types of patents are generally in accordance with popular trends reported in other studies, and this suggests the future professional direction of innovative collaboration in China.
Considering that most of the top ten actors with the highest degrees of centrality, betweenness centrality, and closeness centrality are hospitals, hospitals are dominant, with higher centralities regarding the actualization of an innovative collaboration network between them and the biomedical industry. This aspect may be related to the gap in the development stages of hospitals and biomedical enterprises. Owing to the concepts and practices employed in research hospitals, hospitals in China have experienced rapid development over the past two decades, and this has been a national medium and long-term development plan. As the main task of research hospitals is conducting innovative research and collaborative translation, hospitals have stronger initiatives for seeking and actualizing innovative collaboration. However, similar practices and policy directions were not proposed in the field of biomedicine until a decade ago. This attribute explains the delayed development in innovative collaboration of biomedical enterprises compared with hospitals. Furthermore, there has not been an obvious core actor in such a network, thereby indicating that the innovative collaboration capabilities of both hospitals and biomedical enterprises are very weak and far from facilitating the development of an innovative collaboration network for breaking through the current elementary stage. Additionally, although hospitals account for the majority of the top ten actors in terms of centrality, a biomedical enterprise, Shenzhen Huada Gene Technology Co., Ltd, is always the actor with the highest degree centrality, betweenness centrality, and closeness centrality, thereby indicating that this actor has the greatest power in this innovative collaboration network, is the most important bridge for collaboration among all other actors, and has the most direct connections with other actors.
There are several limitations associated with this study. First, considering the scope of the IPC in the field of biomedicine varies across different studies, the biomedical patents included in this study are based on a broader range, which can be made highly accurate in future studies. Second, patent data were obtained from only IncoPat. The sources of patent data should be increased in future studies. Third, we selected the first two applicants if there are three or more applicants, thereby neglecting some actors who made small contributions to the innovative collaboration network and some new relationships. Fourth, although it is reasonable to evaluate the levels of innovative collaboration using the metric of patents jointly owned by hospitals and biomedical enterprises, a comprehensive measurement metric including aspects other than patents can be used to better reflect innovative collaboration levels in future studies.