Intellectual Property Statistics

To determine the number of patents granted each year, it's important to learn a little bit about intellectual property statistics. With intellectual property statistics, you can learn about a variety of worldwide trends related to business, policy, and technology.

There is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization known as the National Academy of Inventors that comprises over 4,000 individual members in the United States. This organization also includes fellows in 250 institutions, as well as research institutes and universities across the world. Founded in 2010, the purpose of the National Academy of Inventors is to support inventors who have been granted patents from the USPTO, to foster young inventors, and to encourage the sharing of intellectual property.

A trade association known as the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) was founded in 1972 and deals with issues related to copyrights, patents, and trademarks. In the U.S., the IPO is the only entity that is focused on serving all intellectual property owners, regardless of their field or industry. There are a variety of services members of the IPO can access. In addition, this organization fights to make IP ownership rights affordable and effective.

Too Many Patents

Since the Federal Circuit was established, the rate at which patents are granted has increased annually by 5.7 percent. This is nearly triple the annual rate of 1 percent recorded between 1930 and 1982.

The size and number of IT portfolios has also grown. In 2002, Texas instruments, a company that applies for and receives a large number of patents, stated that finding out what was in their portfolio would be a nearly impossible task. As of 2002, their portfolio contained 8,000 patents. In 2011, that number had almost doubled.

If a large company with almost unlimited resources such as Texas Instruments can't manage their portfolio, it stands to reason that small companies would not be able to determine who owns what patent. 

While identifying who owns a patent is a tremendous problem, it can also be very difficult to determine what a patent covers and where the patent is valid. However, if you can withstand the expense, it may be possible to find prior art that makes an existing patent invalid. Because most patent rights aren't asserted, it doesn't make sense for small companies to perform the research necessary to avoid all valid patents.

It is estimated that there are over 250,000 active patents related to smartphones, and if each patent results in 20 claims, it means there are 5,000,000 restrictions you would need to avoid when developing a smartphone-related innovation.

There has been research that indicates comparing all of the products made by a software company to all software patents would require 2,000,000 lawyers working full-time. Even if this were possible, the lawyers' research would not be complete because they would not be able to discover patent applications that had not yet been published.

The sheer number of patents and patent applications puts producing companies in a very difficult situation.

While searching all available patents is expensive and ineffective, infringing on a patent can result in consequences such as:

  • Costly damages.
  • Injunctions against your business.
  • Prohibitions against importation.

Large companies do not want to be targets for lawsuits, making it important to have an experienced legal team that can prevent patent infringement.

One of the ways that software producers deal with the large number of patents is by cross-licensing their portfolios with other companies. Some companies sign non-assertion agreements, which is a promise that the companies involved in the agreement will not sue each other for patent infringement.

Many software producers resist the temptation to assert their patents out of a fear that they themselves will be sued for infringement. Unfortunately, this solution is not effective against patent trolls, who can only gain by bringing litigation against a large company.

2015 US Patenting Statistics

After growth that was steady for nearly a decade, the number of published patents leveled out in 2015. While the number of patents published in 2015 was a record, it only topped the 2014 number by a few thousand publications.

The number of documents for 2014 and 2015 was essentially even, and utility patent publications dropped for the first time in 10 years. Design patent publications did increase, but not by as large an amount as previous years.

If you need help with learning about the number of patents, you can post your legal needs on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.