Abstract The flow of global innovation resources accelerates global innovation disparities, which provides opportunity for latercomer cities to promote the innovation capacities. This paper analyzes the spatial patterns and mechanism of global knowledge absorption of Shanghai, based on the analysis on patents extracting from United States Patent and Trademark Office. The patents' assignee city is Shanghai while more than one inventors of the patents are located outside of Mainland China. The results reveal that foreign multinational companies are the main actors to import global knowledge to Shanghai via their regional headquarters or regional R&D in Shanghai. Local returnee entrepreneur and state owned enterprises are less important due to their limited ability to manage global innovation resources. Therefore, we propose three suggestions to help Shanghai promote its role in global innovation networks and so to become global innovation center:firstly, innovation institutions and environment should be improved to encourage foreign R&D centers realize the technology commercialization locally; secondly, technologydriven crossborder M&As of private firms should be encouraged; finally, more offshore innovation platforms are needed to provide strong support for Shanghai to become a global center of excellence.