Is Cambodia the most innovative low-income country in the world? One report says so.

According the latest edition of the Global Innovation Index, a joint effort of Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Cambodia came first among a selection of 21 low-income economies. Last year Cambodia was ranked just fifth.

The index looks at a range of factors to evaluate not just how ‘innovative’ a country is, but how well it is making use of its resources. The authors do this by comparing innovation inputs (institutions, human capital, research, infrastructure, market and business sophistication) to innovation outputs (knowledge and technology, creative outputs). Each of these points are constructed by a range of factors, giving it a much more interesting and well-rounded perspective than rankings of simply the number of patents filed per resident.

While a low-income country like Cambodia can’t be expected to develop new technologies at the same rate as the United States or Switzerland, it can be expected to make good use of what it does possess. And on this count, Cambodia comes out looking very good indeed. Particularly strong points are the Kingdom’s business and market sophistication, with high levels of foreign direct investment and easy credit. The big weak point is education, with low levels of spending and enrollment.

According to the report, countries such as Cambodia, “demonstrate rising levels of innovation results because of improvements made to institutional frameworks, a skilled labor force with expanded tertiary education, better innovation infrastructures, a deeper integration with global credit investment and trade markets, and a sophisticated business community—even if progress on these dimensions is not uniform across their economies.”

Several of the index’s factors relate to intellectual property – specifically the ratio of patent and trademark applications to GDP. Cambodia’s scores were relatively weak on these points, but with the big changes to the IP landscape this year (joining the Madrid System, cooperation on patents with Singapore, and others), we can expect that to rise in the future.

The full report is available here, as well as the Cambodia snapshot.