There seems to be a fair amount of concern, or at least discussion, lately about how many patents are being filed in and by the U.S. vs. other countries. To explore this topic a little, I looked at U.S. patents issued to foreign inventors.
This is a metric that the USPTO reports each year in its annual report. The USPTO assigns each patent to a country based on the residence of the first-named inventor. Obviously such methodology is far from perfect at least because: (a) co-inventors increasingly reside in different countries; and (b) it doesn’t account for the nationality of the ultimate owner of the patent (which is probably more important than the residence of the first-name inventor). If I get the time and motivation, maybe I will explore this topic along those dimensions, but for now this post was mostly just an excuse to make an animated map visualization.
In the map below, the size of the circle represents the number of patents issued to that country in that fiscal year. The color assigned to each country is random and meaningless. Select a year from the drop down or drag the slider back and forth to see the change over time. You can scroll around, zoom in, and hover over a circle to see the country name and number of patents for that year.
China Growing Fast
I doubt many are surprised here. In fact, let’s have a show of hands: how many of you immediately focused on the China the first time you looked at this?
Japan Still Dominant (but Fading)
Due to the large range of values represented, the size of the Japan’s circle doesn’t really do it justice. Japanese inventors had more U.S. patents in 1992 (!) than any other country did in 2017. Japan peaked in 2014 and has declined the last 3 years, but it 51,743 patents in 2017 was still 2.3 times the second place finisher South Korea.
71 Countries Represented in 2017
Including Eritrea, which is credited with its first ever U.S. patent application.
Fun fact #1: it was patent number 9,752,580 “Positive Displacement Gear Pump” 1st inventor Franco Tommasini. Franco
Fun fact #2: It appears Franco was actually beaten by a mere 1 month to be the first person from Eritrea to be a named inventor on a U.S. patent. That honor goes to Temesghen Tekeste Habte for patent 9,717,438 (“Medical device for detecting a ventricular arrhythmia event”).
>50% of U.S. Patents have a Foreign First-Named Inventor
I didn’t graph the U.S., but in 2017 167,367 patent had a U.S. first-named inventor as compared to 180,275 with a foreign first-named inventor. Does this number actually mean anything. I don’t know. One thing I hope to look at in the future is how many of those foreign inventors work for (or have assigned their rights to) U.S.-owned companies? I would bet its a lot of them.