NORTH BRABANT, NETHERLANDS – From cancer-busting ultrasound techniques to ways to boost vitamins in tomatoes, Dutch tech hub Eindhoven’s avalanche of patents has earned it the crown of the “most inventive city in the world.”
Despite the Dutch economy hobbling through its third recession since 2009, this southern city of around 750,000 has become a beacon of high-tech hope and has even been compared to Silicon Valley in California.
With 22.6 patents filed for every 10,000 residents, U.S.-based Forbes magazine this month named Eindhoven the world’s most inventive city.
Using a commonly used metric for mapping innovation, called “patent intensity,” Forbes based its award on statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In 2011, some 3,238 patent applications were filed in the Netherlands, according to the European Union’s statistics office, Eurostat.
Of these, the Eindhoven region and in particular its research and development hub the High Tech Campus, accounted for 42 percent.
But on the “smartest square kilometer in the Netherlands,” you won’t find students at the sprawling HTC complex on Eindhoven’s outskirts.
Once a closed-off laboratory for Dutch electronics giant Philips, the campus houses more than 100 companies employing 8,000 researchers, developers and engineers.
The sprawling complex with its ultramodern glass-facaded buildings is set among green fields populated by leisurely grazing cows.
The HTC is at the heart of Eindhoven’s innovation and provides a space where big companies such as Philips collaborate with small startups.
Philips opened the facility in 2003 when the company had just gone through a round of layoffs. It offered former employees somewhere to launch startups and use their knowledge.
The result was an explosion of innovation.
“The idea (of the HTC) is based on a philosophy of ‘open innovation’ where high-tech businesses share knowledge . . . to deliver better and quicker results,” said Jean-Paul van Oijen, sales manager at Brainport Development, whose job it is to stimulate investment in the Eindhoven region.
For a small startup like Miortech, which makes electronic tiles that deflect sunlight just like paper — seen as the next big thing in billboard displays — the campus is ideal.
“We have only five people on the payroll,” the company’s chief executive, Hans Feil, said.
The rest of the work is outsourced to scientists from other companies, while the facilities to do the research are rented from the HTC.
“We use shared facilities. It’s a very good spot to be. We are surrounded by people and companies with a similar mindset — high patent intensity,” Feil said.
The High Tech Campus forms part of the broader Brainport Region Eindhoven, or Brainport for short — an initiative rolled out by the Dutch government in 2004 to corral high-tech knowledge after not just Philips but several other big companies laid off a swath of highly skilled workers.
It works on a so-called triple-helix concept, which brings together business, knowledge-based institutions and public money to create a space where enterprise can flourish, notching up some 60,000 new jobs in the region by 2011.
Together with the so-called Airport Amsterdam, which focuses business on the Schiphol International Airport hub and Seaport Rotterdam, Brainport today forms one of the three most important pillars of the Dutch economy.
Brainport contributed some €13.5 billion ($17.8 billion) or 8 percent to Dutch exports in 2011 and aims by 2020 to be one of the top 10 technology regions in the world.