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April 23, 2009


For the first time, the USPTO "issued more patents to foreigners than to Americans," reports Business Week. "[T]he slippage comes amid recent reports that show the U.S. losing its edge when it comes to innovation." South Korea, China, and Japan are becoming more productive inventors. "All told, American inventors received 92,000 patents in 2008, down 1.8% from the year before and a rise of just 1.4% over the past decade. Meantime, patients issued to foreigners rose 4.5%, to 93,244, in 2008 and 28.6% since 1998."

More foreign companies are seeking U.S. patents as counter-claim leverage against assertions by U.S. companies. Meanwhile, penny-pinching by companies in this country has reduced domestic patent grants.

Here's the USPTO geographic breakdown of granted patents, by state, and by country, from 1977 to 2008.

BusinessWeek has a slideshow on the World's Most Inventive Cities, prepared by Ocean Tomo. Ignoring city boundaries, it puts San Francisco/Silicon Valley #1.

Posted by Patent Hawk at April 23, 2009 1:01 PM | International


What is one of the most patent intensive businesses? Pharmaceuticals/Drugs/biotech.

I'm not sure if you're aware, but Pharma in the USA is burning. Pfizer, Wyeth, Merck, etc are transferring operations overseas. And just try at getting a job at Schering or one of the big companies if you're not on a L-1 or H-1 visa (temp slaves need only apply).

So why are you implying that the distribution of inventorship should not reflect the geographic preferences of executives?

Posted by: Roger at April 23, 2009 1:37 PM

And yet, what we really need in order to promote small businesses is more patenting!

I still wonder what happens when 80% of patenting in the US is done by corps from other countries.

Posted by: 6000 at April 23, 2009 1:49 PM

"wonder what happens"

You will have to return to flipping burgers.

Posted by: Just sayin' at April 23, 2009 5:15 PM

The average Joe Q. Public couldn't give a rat's a$$ about patents.

All he has to do is go shopping and the magic happens. The shelves are stocked with iPhones and other techno goodies. It's happened before and therefore it will continue to happen again and again, forever and ever. The economy always "bounces" back. Right?

Of course those who read this blog know better. It doesn't just happen by magic. Somewhere in a lab, a team of engineers who spent their college days studying science instead of studying the effects of recreational drugs on their own bodies, are hard at work developing the next big thing. But it won't happen in the USA. It will happen somewhere else.

The USPTO filings data is merely the messenger. As we have sowed, so shall we reap.

Posted by: step back at April 24, 2009 2:43 AM

We shipped many manufacturing jobs and R & D jobs overseas the past eight or so years, and replaced them with Wall Street jobs packaging and selling toxic financial instruments.

Hopefully, we have learned our lesson and will change our ways.

Posted by: John Prosecutor at April 24, 2009 10:53 AM

This was originally presented to address on Gre Ahorinian's blog. I think it more than appropriate here. The tripling of the U.S. patents filed that are attributable to foreign-born applicants. Firstly, and more importantly, I believe one should look at the education system. Local education systems undergo a dramatic negative effect in the face of tax concessions to businesses. It is common knowledge that the local political entities freely sacrifice property tax revenue (that funds schools) in exchange for income revenue (that supports local business). This negatively impacts local education. In addition, many of the immigrant inventors bring children with them. The local schools are required to teach in the language of these individuals. This commenced in force in the 1980s. I know for a fact that back in the 1990s most children in San Jose School district were taught in a language that they understand only 15 minutes out of every hour. After one generation of degradation of our educational systems it is no wonder that domestic innovation has been stymied.

I would contend that other factors must also be analyzed to accurately account for Mr. Kerr's findings. It is well known that most the patents filed in the U.S. are at the behest of large corporations. If I remember my fact accurately, Hewlett Packard was the subject of some pretty bad press coverage back in the 1990s for laying-off high paid U.S. workers and hired engineers from India that were allowed into the U.S. under the H1B Visa program. Then there is the outsourcing of jobs by U.S. corporations. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1152580/posts What must be understood is that much of the know-how and innovation in these companies came from taxpayer's dollars. H-P earned much of its success and corporate size by manufacturing electronics equipment for the United States military. Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina might be right in saying "[t]here is no job that is America’s God-given right anymore". I think she pretty much sums up the position of corporate america with respect to employing Americans. Maybe now we should revisit our so-called elected representatives decision to bail-out these companies

Posted by: me at April 24, 2009 1:02 PM

Hawk, the predictors of doom should view the Business week article. Virtually all of the world's Top 20 most inventive cities are in the USA. One or two in Asia, but not one in Europe. So no need to worry, eh? Still plenty of investment in making inventions in the USA.

Then again, why is nobody betting the farm in tooling up for innovative manufacturing within the USA? Plenty of reasons, I know, but maybe one is the impossibility of doing a meaningful patent clearance study. Some people who should know better should chew on that. With an ever-increasing number of issued US patents belonging to alien corporations, the problem can only get worse.

Posted by: MaxDrei at April 26, 2009 10:35 PM