R&D spending by U.S. industry continues to rise significantly, indicates the latest joint report by the Commerce Dept.'s Office of Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. The report, U.S. Corporate R&D, shows that the top 500 R&D-spending firms in the nation spent $111 billion of their own funds on R&D in 1997 -- a hefty 9% increase over the 1996 figure of $102 billion. Leading the increase was the information and electronics sector, which posted a 15.2% boost (to $45.8 billion) in R&D outlays. In second place was medical substances and devices (up 11.7% to $19.4 billion). The only sector to show a decline among the eight studied was motor vehicles and transportation; its spending reduction of 4.6% (to $18.4 billion) dropped it from second to third place. Medical substances and devices companies recorded the highest ratio of R&D to sales, 11.8%, topping the 7% ratio of the information and electronics sector. The ratio for all 500 firms studied was 4.2%.