They say that necessity is the mother of invention—and inventors have always been working to solve all of life’s little (and big) problems. Can you imagine, for example, a life without countless types of machinery, the lightbulb, sliced bread, the iPhone, or Google? Thanks to the cleverness of inventors, life continually improves.
But on the way to making their inventions available to the general public, an inventor has to file a patent. A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state or intergovernmental organization to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. In other words, it prevents other inventors with similar ideas from making, selling, or using the invention for a set period of time.
In celebration of the 10 millionth patent that was issued in June 2018, we wanted to take a further look at patent data to find out where some of the most innovative places in the country and the world were, what companies around the world are some of the most creative, and what types of patents are most issued.
What Places are Most Innovative?
The current patent numbering and examination system was enacted in 1836, but in the last 20 years there has been a 183 percent surge of patent activity—an increase in issued patents from 122,975 to 347,642.
So, where has all this patent activity been occurring? In the United States, the states with the highest number of patent issues per capita in the last five years have been California, Massachusetts, Washington, Minnesota, Vermont, Oregon, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Michigan, and Colorado. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the least innovative states that had the lowest number of patent issues per capita in the last five years are Maine, Oklahoma, Montana, Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alaska, and Mississippi.
Throughout the world, there are several innovative countries that are also churning out patents. The most innovative countries with the most patents per capita are Taiwan, Israel, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Germany.
And when we think of patents, you might typically think it’s one person with a great idea, but companies can also file patents to protect their inventions. The 20 most creative companies with the most issued patents in 2017 were IBM, Samsung Electronics, Canon, Intel, LG, Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft, TSMC, Samsung, Apple, Sony, Amazon, Toyota, Ford, GE, TOSHIBA, Ericsson, Fujitsu, and Huawei.
What Types of Patents are Issued?
Inventions may be limitless, but there are only a few types of patents that are issued. Most patents (91 percent) are utility patents, or a patent that covers the creation of a new or improved product, process, or machine. A second type of patent, design (which makes up 9 percent of total issued patents), is a patent that protects the ornamental design of a functional item. A third type of patent, plant (which makes up .4 percent of total issued patents), is a patent that protects an invented discovered variety of plant. Finally, there is a patent reissue, which makes up .1 percent of the total issued patents, and is a patent issued to correct a significant error in an already issued patent. In the United States, the most utility patents per capita as issued in Vermont, the most design patents per capita are issued in Oregon, the most plant patents per capita are issued in Oregon, and the most reissue patents per capita are issued in New Hampshire.
Where You’re Most and Least Likely to Get a Patent
Just because you invent something fantastic and innovative doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily get a patent. On average in the last five years, patent applications are granted 49 percent of the time. U.S. residents get grants on average 49 percent of the time, non-residents 51 percent of the time, and applicants abroad are most likely to get their patents granted, with an average grant rate of 59 percent.
So, where are your best chances in the U.S. to get a patent granted? The easiest states for patent issues (or the highest percentage of grants versus the number of applications) were Idaho, Vermont, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Arizona. And what about the toughest? We found that the toughest place in the States to get a patent was the District of Columbia, followed by Arkansas, Delaware, West Virginia, Missouri, Washington, Maine, Ohio, Connecticut, and Utah.
The Top Technology Classes for Patents
We’ve examined where in the world you’re most likely to get a patent and which states and countries are the most inventive, but what are these inventors actually inventing? It turns out, there’s a pretty vast and diverse range of inventions.
We dove into the data and found that the top technology classes for patents since 1963 were the following: Drug (bio-affecting and body treating compositions), organic compounds, synthetic resins or natural rubbers, multiplex communications, chemistry, surgery, semiconductor device manufacturing, stock material or miscellaneous articles, measuring and testing, and active solid-state devices (transistors or solid-state diodes).
A Brief Patent History
Humans have been inventing things as long as we’ve been a species, but the first official patent was filed in the current patent numbering and examination system in 1836. After that initial patent, it took 75 years to get to the one millionth patent granted on August 8, 1911. The two millionth patent was then granted on April 30, 1935. It took another 26 years to reach the three millionth patent on September 12, 1961 and another 15 to get to the four millionth.
The five millionth patent was granted on March 19, 1991 and then eight years later the six millionth patent was granted on December 7, 1999. Seven years later on Valentine’s Day 2006 the seven millionth patent was granted.
The eight millionth patent was granted on August 16, 2011 and just four short years later the nine millionth patent was filed. Finally, the 10 millionth patent was filed on June 19, 2018.
And from this rapid increase in patent grants, it doesn’t looks like it’ll take us too much longer to reach number 11 million.