How Many Patents Are There?

If you’ve ever asked, “how many patents are there,” the number of active patents globally is approximately 10.6 million as of 2015. Twenty-five percent of those patents were issued in the United States, 18 percent were issued in Japan, and 14 percent were issued in China.  

The number of patents granted globally in 2015 was approximately 1.25 million. This number was an increase of greater than 5 percent over 2014 and the most significant growth rate since 2012. The increase can be mainly attributed to the increase of patents granted in China.  

China issued roughly 360,000 patents in 2015, which was greater than the approximately 300,000 patents issued in the United States. The number of patents issued in the United States remained stable in 2015, marking the first time in almost 10 years that there wasn’t steady growth.

Furthermore, total patents issued was approximately 710,000 in 2015, which established a new record. However, the patent numbers in 2015 only exceeded the 2014 patent numbers by less than 2,000 issued patents. Historically, the issued patent number increased at a rate of less than 1 percent annually from 1930 to 1982. Since 1982, following the creation of the Federal Circuit, patent grants have roughly tripled, growing at a 6 percent growth rate.

Additionally, Information Technology (IT) patent portfolio grew increasingly larger. During the Federal Trade Commission/Department of Justice hearings in 2002, patent counsel for one of the more sophisticated licensors of patents, Texas Instruments, spoke about the immense challenges of identifying the patents in their own portfolio calling it an immense drain on the mind and budget.  

How Many Patents are There?

In 2002, Texas Instruments had roughly 8,000 patents in its portfolio. By 2011, the Texas Instruments patent portfolio had roughly doubled in size.

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), patents related to information and communications technology (ICT) have nearly doubled from 1995 to 2008, whereas patents in other industries have remained the same. One area of growth is related to smartphones. There are an estimated 250,000 active patents related to smartphones in the United States.

If one were to assume that each of these patents related to the smartphone had about 20 claims, a simple calculation would yield approximately five million restrictions on smartphone innovation and usage.

In 2015, innovation around the globe saw approximately three million patent applications filed, which represented an almost 8 percent increase over patent applications filed in 2014. This was the sixth consecutive year of increasing patent protection demand. 

In China, a new record was established in 2015 with greater than one million patent applications filed. This marked the first year in which the one million patent application threshold was surpassed, demonstrating that intellectual property has a great impact on economic activity. The following is the specific breakdown of patent application filings in 2015:

  • China filed 1,010, 406 patents
  • United States filed 526,296 patents
  • Japan filed 454,285 patents

One similarity among these nations is the fact that most patent applications were limited to the nation’s own borders. More specifically, of China’s more than one million patent applications, only 42,000 applications were for activity outside their borders.

This figure has increased over the last 20 years to the point where China overseas patent application now roughly equal the number of overseas patent applications filed by France. Compare this figure with the United States, which filed almost 240,000 patent applications abroad – 6 percent more than in 2014. Japan filed almost 200,000 patents abroad.

Put these figures together, and one can conclude that almost 66 percent of patent applications were limited to the home country in 2015.

Top Countries Filing Patent Applications

Among the top five countries filing patent applications:

  • China had the fastest growth, almost 19 percent
  • The European Patent Office was second with almost 5 percent growth
  • The United States grew at approximately 2 percent
  • Republic of Korea grew at a slightly lower rate of 1.5 percent
  • Japan actually experienced a decline of approximately 2 percent, which continues a downward trend over past ten years

Industry Breakdown

Lastly, the following is the industry breakdown of patent applications filed in 2015:

  • Computer Technology equaled about 8 percent of total patent applications
  • Electrical machinery was roughly 7 percent of the total patent applications
  • Digital communications was approximately 5 percent of total patent applications

If you need help understanding how many patents there are, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts on the top 5 percent to its site. Lawyers from UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.