Each year, ABB invests significantly in research and development. Our research and development focuses on developing and commercializing the technologies, products and solutions of our businesses that are of strategic importance to our future growth. Out of approximately 7,000 employees in research and development, more than 60 percent are focused on software and digitalization. With locations in seven countries, our corporate research centers bring together an international team of highly skilled scientists.
In addition to continuous product development, and order-related engineering work, we develop platforms for technology applications in our businesses in our research and development laboratories, which operate on a global basis. We seek to maintain a balance between short-term and long-term research and development programs and optimize our return on investment. We protect these results by holding patents, copyrights and other appropriate intellectual property protection.
To complement our business-focused product development, our businesses invest together in collaborative research activities covering topics such as artificial intelligence, software, sensors, control and optimization, mechatronics and robotics, power electronics, communication technologies, material and manufacturing, electrodynamics or electrical switching technologies.
This results in advancing the state-of-the-art technologies used in our products and in common technology platforms that can be applied in multiple product lines.
Universities are incubators of future technology, and one task of our research and development teams is to transform university research into industry-ready technology platforms. We partner with more than 100 leading universities and research institutions around the world to build research networks and foster new technologies. We believe these collaborations shorten the amount of time required to turn basic ideas into viable products, and they additionally help us to recruit and train new personnel. We have built numerous university collaborations in several continents, including long-term, strategic relationships with a number of leading institutions in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, India and China.
We are also leveraging our ecosystem to enhance our innovation efforts and gain speed with strategic partners with complementary competencies. In addition, we invest and collaborate with start-ups worldwide via our corporate venture arm ABB Technology Ventures and our start-up collaboration arm SynerLeap.
The result of our investment in research and development is that ABB is widely recognized for its world-class technology. Technology has been deeply embedded in our DNA since our founding and has carried us through our century-long history. It is one of the main reasons why customers and partners turn to us for help on their biggest challenges. Together with them, we continuously push technology frontiers to make things possible that were not possible before.
As part of our commitment to technological prowess and innovation, we collaborate with about 100 universities around the world. In line with this commitment, and also to advance the academic fields that are of interest to ABB, we recently announced the ABB Research Award in Honor of Hubertus von Gruenberg, the former chairman of the board of directors at ABB. The award encourages world-class research in our main fields of operation: power and automation, as applied in utilities, industries, and transport and infrastructure.