Flanders’ expenditures on R&D reached 2.86% of GDP in 2017 (Eurostat, 2020). The R&D effort for Flanders represented almost two-thirds of the GERD for the whole of Belgium in 2017. Flanders ranks higher than the Netherlands, France and the EU-28 average.
In 2017, the business enterprise sector spent €5,234.8m on R&D activities in Flanders, measured at current prices. This is the Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD), which corresponds to an R&D intensity (BERD as a % of GDP) 2%, with R&D investments totalling 2.86% of the GDP. In absolute numbers, the country’s R&D expenditure stood at €11.6868bn.
The R&D activities (expenditure) within companies in Flanders are mainly focused on the following high-tech 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), 13 University colleges, 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 31,772 researchers (full-time equivalent), the region gathers 60% of the researchers in the country in 2015, among which 36% were university researchers. The level of education of the population is relatively high with 48.2% of the population of the region aged from 30 to 34 years having tertiary education (ISCED 5 - 8), compared to 47.6% in Belgium and 40.7% in EU27 (2019). The business sector accounted for 55% of Flanders' R&D spending in 2015, compared to 53.5% in Belgium (Eurostat, 2020).
Business R&D expenditures in Flanders are mainly done in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors (41% in 2015). Another sector of importance is the biotechnological industry. About 120 Flemish companies develop researches on biotechnology and life sciences, while the chemical industry amounts to over 500 different companies. The total investment in these sectors (chemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology) represented €42b in 2017 and employed almost 60,000 people (ewi-vlaanderen, 2017).
In terms of patenting, Belgium recorded the highest increase of patent applications to the Europe Patent Office in 2019. This increase of 3.2% in 2018 (EPO, 2020). The main growth sectors are chemical chemical engineering (+26.9%), surface technology (+40%), transport (+51.2%) (EPO, 2020). In 2012, Flanders filed the most patent applications (69% compared to 9% in Brussels and 22% in Wallonia) (Eurostat, 2020). As for the number of patent applications per million inhabitants, Belgium is in the eighth position with 208 patent applications per million inhabitants. (EPO, 2020).