Flanders’ expenditures on R&D reached 2.67% of GDP in 2015 (Eurostat, 2018). The R&D effort for Flanders represented almost two-thirds of the GERD for the whole of Belgium in 2015. Flanders ranks higher than the Netherlands, France and the EU-28 average.
In 2015, the business enterprise sector spent €4,538m on R&D activities in Flanders, measured at current prices. This is the Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD), which corresponds to a R&D intensity (BERD as a % of GDP) of 1.89%, with R&D investments totalling 2.47% of the GDP. In absolute numbers, the country’s R&D expenditure stood at €10.1bn.
The R&D activities (expenditure) within companies in Flanders are mainly focused on the following hightech sectors (ewi-vlaanderen, 2017): chemicals and pharmaceuticals (NACE 20-21) account for more than 41% of total BERD expenditures on R&D (based on a sample); motion picture, video and TV production, computer programmes, engineering, and technical testing and analysis activities (NACE 59-63, 71-72) account for 12.7%; information technology, electronic products, optical products and electrical equipment (NACE 26-27) account for about 12.5%; machinery and transport (NACE 28-30) account for more than 10.1% In 2015, the R&D intensity in the business sector was 1.89%. (ewi-vlaanderen, 2017).
Flanders has five universities (incl. one Dutch language university in Brussels), four large strategic research centres (IMEC (merges with iMinds in 2016), VIB, VITO and Flanders Make) and a number of smaller competence poles and research centres for specific (mainly sectoral) knowledge development and distribution. With more than 39,000 researchers (full-time equivalent), the region gathers 65.5% of the researchers in the country in 2011. In 2014, 15,796 of these were university researchers. The share of R&D personnel in the total active population (1.39%) was higher than the national average (1.35%) in 2012. The level of education of the population is relatively high with 35.4% of the population of the region aged from 25 to 64 years having a tertiary education (ISCED 5 and 6), compared to 35.3% in Belgium and 27.7% in EU27 (2012). The business sector accounted for 70% of Flanders' R&D spending in 2013 (60% in Belgium, 2012), 54% in the EU-28 (2012)). Business R&D expenses in Flanders are mainly situated in high-tech sectors such as chemistry, pharmaceuticals, ICT, mechatronics, which together represent almost 80% of the total R&D expenses. The chemical and pharmaceuticals industry in Flanders alone represents 34% of total private R&D expenditures in Belgium (StatBel, 2013).
In terms of patenting, Belgium recorded the highest increase of patent applications to the Europe Patent Office in 2016. This increase of 7% in 2016 (against 5.9% in 2015) is the highest increase recorded since 2010 (2,184 patent applications in 2016 against 2,041 in 2015)(EPO, 201). The growth sectors are: organic chemistry (+31,6%) biotechnologies (+30,4%) information technology (+28,1%). By regions, Flanders filed the most patent applications (64.4%). As for the number of patent applications per million inhabitants, Belgium is in eighth position with 191 patent applications per million inhabitants. (EPO, 2017)