Background: RNA interference (RNAi) is an innovative technique for plant improvement
based on naturally occurring mechanisms which show great potential because of their high
specificity and possibility to be applied through innovative methods of topical application in
plants. This specific innovation sector is worth analysing from the economic perspective given the
great potentiality of RNAi-based plants and products to support modern agriculture in reaching the
goals for the improvement of agri-food chains global sustainability. This paper aims to evaluate
the global landscape of RNAi innovation by analysing patent data as indicators of innovation output.
Methods: We revised all patents relating to RNAi in plants based on a dataset of roughly seven
thousand patent families. The analysis classified inventions according to a set of variables able to
characterise the dynamics of innovation (i.e. public/private ownership, type of plants involved,
main traits) while the use of concentration indices provided insights into the evolution of this sector.
Results: Results revealed that RNAi is a technique with promising future applications, able to
provide solutions to a great variety of agricultural issues and principally developed by the US and
Chinese applicants, whereas European innovation capacity in this field appears to be limited.
Conclusion: The innovation landscape of plant breeding is rapidly evolving and RNAi technique
is probably going to play a major role in this field.