2007 was a bit of a mixed bag for U.S. patents and published applications. In Q4 the USPTO published 73,450 applications, the lowest number in more than a year and a 3 percent drop from the same quarter in 2006. However, the total number of PGPubs for the calendar year was 300,198, a 1.87 percent increase over 2006. This is the first year that PGPubs have exceeded the 300,000 mark. Approximately 1.6 million applications have been published since 2001. The USPTO issued 45,401 patents in Q4, a 3 percent decline from the same period in 2006. The total number of patents issued in 2007 dropped to 183,128, which is 13,485 or 6.86 percent fewer than 2006. Weekly issues and PGpubs were relatively stable with few peaks or canyons. (See Table 2.)According the the USPTO's FY2007 annual report released in November, inventors set another record for new filings, submitting 467,243 applications, a 4.85 percent increase over 2006. In order to deal with this continuing growth the USPTO hired another 1,215 examiners in FY2007, bringing the total patent examining corps to 5,477. Despite the additional staff the backlog of pending patent applications grew to 1,112,517, a 10.82 percent increase over FY2006.
Table 4. Withdrawn Patent and PGPub Numbers in 2007
Patents ..... 831 PGPubs ..... 143
Predictions for 2008
Last year I predicted that the USPTO would adopt series code 12 for utility and plant patent applications before the end of 2007. We won't know for sure for a few months, but the USPTO is on track to run out of serial numbers for series 11 before the end of the year. Recently published applications filed in September have serial numbers in the 850,000-855,000 range. Applications are published 18 months from the earliest priority filing date (provisional or foreign), which means that many new applications are published 6 months (or less) after filing. So it looks like series 12 will be appearing on or about Jan. 1. Series code 11 was adopted on Dec. 1, 2004.
A recent op-ed in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 27) uses patent statistics to make the case that Canada, in general, and the province of Alberta, specifically, needs to focus more on math, science and the creative arts in schools in order to ensure future prosperity. The writer argues that since Canada is about one-tenth the size of the U.S., Canadian inventors should have been granted 240,000 U.S. patents over the last twenty years. Instead, they have received only 77,594.
Although I agree that Canada needs to do more to cultivate innovation rather than rely on natural resources for economic growth, I'm generally skeptical about such comparisons. In fact, I believe that patent statistics show that Canadians are among the most inventive, creative people in the world.
Let's take a broader look at patenting trends among the G8 countries over the last few years. With just over 33 million people, Canada is the smallest country in the G8, yet since 2000 Canadian inventors have been granted nearly as many U.S. patents as their counterparts in France and Great Britain, which have populations almost twice as large. In terms of the per capita number of patents issued, Canada, with about 1000 people per patent, ranks second after Japan (488:1) and Germany (857:1) and well ahead of France (1702:1), Italy (3458:1) and Russia (60991:1).
A much more interesting statistic, in my opinion, is the fact that Canadian residents apply for and receive far fewer patents in Canada than the U.S. In 2006, Canadian inventors filed 10,243 U.S. patent applications and were granted 3,743 patents, but filed only 5,348 Canadian patent applications and received 1,495 patents. Obviously, this might be explained by the fact that Canadian inventors believe they can get more bang for their buck in the U.S., where the consumer and venture capital markets are much larger.
Table 1. G8 Patenting Trends, 2000-2007*
Country / Pop. / U.S. Patents
Canada / 33,390,141 / 34,702 France / 60,876,136 / 35,765 Germany / 82,400,996 / 96,102 Italy / 58,147,733 / 16,814 Japan / 127,433,494 / 289,628 Russia / 141,377,752 / 2,318 United Kingdom / 60,776,238 / 38,579 United States / 300,000,000 / 668,807
The State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI), a nonprofit organization that supports economic development through science, technology and innovation, has released a new report showing the ranking in number of patents issued per 100,000 workers for U.S. states and the District of Columbia from 2001-2006.
West coast states improved the most over the five-year period with Washington and Oregon ranked #1 and #2 and California at #4. In the farm belt, Kansas (#4) and Oklahoma (#7) showed strong growth, as did Massachusetts (#3) and Rhode Island (#6) in New England, which has been a hub of innovation for 150 years. Minnesota, Georgia and Colorado rounded out the top ten. Surprisingly, Idaho, which ranked #1 in all five years, had the fouth largest decline (-18.7), dropping from 328.2 patents per 100K workers in 2001 to 266.8 per worker in 2006. Idaho is in no danger of losing its #1 rank anytime soon, thanks to Boise-based Micron Technology, Inc., one of the top-ten patenting companies in the U.S. The Gem State's two closest competitors, California and Vermont mustered only 161.5 and 160.3 patents per worker in 2006.
The EPO is conducting a survey on a proposed improvement to esp@cenet scheduled for 2008. Specifically, they're asking for feedback on the usefulness of exporting data in CSV or XML formats.
Currently, the only patent office database (that I'm aware of) that supports exporting is the German PTO's DEPATISnet. You can download bib data in an Excel spreadsheet from up to 250 records at a time. This is a wonderful development. At my university a number of engineering and business students take entrepreneurship courses that require them to use patent data to identify key companies/innovators, develop market profiles and analyze long-term industry trends. Being able to export data from esp@cenet would save them a lot of time. In my opinion, CSV is more useful than XML, especially for users such as students and private inventors who are not familiar with XML, since it can be easily imported into a spreadsheet for analysis.
The Netherlands Patent Office has announced that it will phase out its six-year patent (C1 document) in 2008. The six-year patent is a weaker form of patent protection than the standard 20-year patent. An application for a six-year patent is automatically registered without a novelty search or examination 18 months after filing. According to the agency's latest annual report, 602 6-year patents and 1,771 20-year patents were granted in 2005. Of all patents granted, over 50 percent went to private inventors and companies of 1-200 employees.
According to a story last month in the World Information Review, presidential candidate Barack Obama would make patent reform a top priority of his administration. One of his ideas is to open up the patent process to citizen input, which I assume would entail establishing a formal patent review program similar to the Community Patent Review Project being piloted by the New York Law School. I'm skeptical that such a system can have a meaningful impact on patent quality. To date, the Peer-to-Patent Project has registered 1,650 reviewers, an impressive number, but they have submitted only 94 pieces of prior art relating to 17 pending applications. Identifying prior art requires deep expertise and excellent analytical skills. Are there really that many qualified people willing to volunteer their time doing such complex work? Or would this just be an open invitation to cranks with time on their hands?
I'm not a golfer but I know that golf is one of the world's most popular sports. According to the PGA website, there are 25 million amateur golfers in the U.S. alone. This huge multi-billion dollar industry is fertile ground for inventors seeking to cash in on golfers' legendary passion for anything that promises to improve their game or ease their journey across the fareway. Fans of Caddy Shack will remember Rodney Dangerfield's golf bag equipped with a wet bar, stereo and club dispenser. Professional golf associations, like the PGA, have strict rules on what technological improvements can be allowed. For example, a few years ago two physics professors at Cal Tech invented a ball that would not slice. Their design placed dimples only at the opposite ends of the ball, which greatly improved its aerodynamics. In response, the PGA prohibited balls that did not have a uniform dimple pattern on the entire surface.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I stumbled upon a show on the Golf Channel called Fore Inventors Only. The concept is similar to other invention shows such as American Inventor and Everyday Edisons. A panelist of three golf pros, Stina Sternberg, Bill Harmon and Fulton Allem, were recruited to judge hundreds of golf-related inventions. The grand prize was shelf space at Golfsmith stores for one year and $50,000 in commercial air time on the Golf Channel.
I watched several episodes of this addicting show, and actually liked it better than the other invention shows I've seen. For one thing, the judges were far more professional than the grand standing panel on American Inventor.
Many of the inventions were training devices for improving a golfer's swing or stance. Some of the more bizarre ideas included an electronic caddy that offered encouragement in a grating, robot-like voice; a ball with markings that alinged with the earth's magnetic field; and an golf ball shooting air rifle designed for people with disabilities who want to play golf but could not swing a club. The grand prize went to the inventor of the Club Caddy, an oversized clothspin that attaches to a club shaft to form a tripod that will keep the club upright.
The number of golf inventions is vast. According to esp@cenet, there are some 10,000 patents and published applications for golf clubs and another 6,000 for golf balls, not to mention more than 700 golf training devices.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.