Patent attorney Stephen Nipper and fellow blogger Chris Blanchard make some interesting comments on the use and misuse of patent statistics as measures of economic development and technological innovation. Both point to the case of Idaho, which in recent years has been ranked #1 in patents per capita thanks to the presence of Micron and HP, two patent powerhouses, in Boise.
I agree that patent statistics, like most statistical measures, can be misleading. In Canada, for example, tiny Yukon, pop. 31,000, ranks #1 in patents per capita, compared to the more populous and industralized provinces of Alberta (3.2 million), Ontario (12.5 million) and Quebec (7.5 million). Blanchard argues that patent statistical outliers like Yukon should be omitted or at least accounted for in economic development studies.
Nipper and Blanchard's criticism is a valid one, but I think it's wrong to completely dismiss patents as a useful (but indirect) measure of economic development. A large number of patents issued to a particular region or city might suggest a large population of highly educated engineers or successful independent inventors. For example, inventor Solly Angel, author of The Tale of the Scale, used patent statistics to decide what city might offer the best support network for a first-time inventor. He settled on New York because of its high concentration of patent attorneys, inventors, consulting engineers and suppliers.
Most patent offices publish annual patent statistics. The USPTO also publishes numerous reports on patent activity by organization, technology and geographic area. The WIPO collects and publishes patent statistics from around the world.
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