Monday, August 23, 2010

Patent Stats Chart

The above chart shows the number of utility patents applied for and granted from 1900-2009.  (Utility patents are the regular kind used for new inventions).

I highlight three regions of significant economic distress.  The first is the great depression, in which patents dropped considerably.  The second is the 1970s oil shock era, in which patent application growth stopped - applications didn't drop, but patents granted did.  The third region is the great recession of recent years, in which patent growth also stopped, but, at least as of 2009, the number of applications has not dropped significantly.

Note that there is significant lag between the two curves since it generally takes the patent office a few years to rule on a particular patent.

I imagine the big growth of patents since the early 1980s has to do with the rise of the venture capital system, giving more incentive to create patents (since VCs typically require them of the start-ups they fund).  The patent office has been getting more strict about how many of this enlarged number of patents it grants in recent years, meaning that the red line levelled off in the aughties.


Alexander Ac said...

Aah, another (unsustainable) exponential function :-)

Stuart, have you seen one of those recent Science "shocking" papers?

Drought-Induced Reduction in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 2000 Through 2009

Joseph Romm has embedded video from NASA:


Stuart Staniford said...

Yes, I have read that paper and will have some commentary on it soon.

Gary said...

Just wondering if the recent large increase in patent applications is due to the explosion of patents on genetic sequences. Any stats on that?

Stuart Staniford said...

Gary, if you go to the underlying patent office stats, there's a separate column for "Plant patents" which I would guess covers what you are asking about. At any rate, that category is much smaller than the utility patents.

Gary said...


Plant patents are much more restrictive. (basically specific plant varieties propagated as clones) The result of gene sequencing has been the patenting of specific compounds that are discovered with the aid of sequencing. I typed "gene sequence" into the USPTO search engine and got 20k hits. I really think that the patenting of molecules has distorted the statistics. Pharma companies have automated the discovery of "interesting" molecules and are quick to stake out their territory with a patent. To get to the bottom of this we would need stats on the various classes of patents.

Stuart Staniford said...


Oh, ok, thanks - then I don't know.