The Sky Is Not Falling: Patents Way Up In 2010

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By Aaron Thalwitzer

More patents were granted in 2010 than ever before — 31% more than in 2009.

The Great Recession hasn’t slowed innovation. A good sign, to be sure.

According to IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, the USPTO issued 219,614 utility patents* in 2010, up 31 percent from 2009 and the most significant annual increase on record.  The official Top-50 company ranking is here.

The USPTO has made efforts to speed up turnaround times, but there remains a huge backlog of patents pending. These aren’t all last year’s patents, though many of them are.

IBM was #1 (again, for the 18th consecutive year), with a record 5,896 patents.  Samsung was second with 4,551, while Microsoft was third with 3,094.  Most everyone on the list is way up from 2009.

Does this mean that patent problems are not “stifling” U.S. innovation, as claimed by many U.S. companies? The answer is, of course, it depends. There’s no debate that the PTO is still drowning in applications and things would run more smoothly with more examiners, but the real problem is that a lot of bad problems slip through the cracks, and a lot of worse patents are rejected, only to be refiled ad nauseum.

Would have been a helluva lawyer.

It’s more than patents not being granted or rejected. Whenever an inventor takes time to respond to a lawsuit, he’s not inventing, or refining, or designing. A deposition probably blows his whole day.  The time and money we put into litigating patents could be spent on research and design. Lawyers may be thought of as bloodsuckers, but it’s the system that drains the resources. Lawyers are only a part of it.

*The PTO says utility patents are “issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof, it generally permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of up to twenty years from the date of patent application filing ++, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. Approximately 90% of the patent documents issued by the PTO in recent years have been utility patents, also referred to as ‘patents for invention.’” So, utility patents are a good measure of innovation.


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Posted On
Jan 25, 2011
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Considering USPTO’s track record on evaluating the novelty and innovation step of its patents, I prefer PCT applications over USPTO patents as an statistic to measure innovation progress.

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