By Alex Polyansky Feb. 20, 2019

An In-depth Look at the Patenting Trends in the US


Since it took the reins in global power at the Second World War, the United States has made a name as an innovation powerhouse. As a result, the nation has always been a force to reckon with in relation to patent filing trends both in the domestic market and internationally. Let us take a close look at some of the prevalent patenting trends in the dynamic market.

A Global Leader in Patents

According to data from Statista, the market took the lead globally in 2017 with regards to the number of patents in force. It had a total of 2,984,825 patents in force, far ahead of the second market, China, which had 2,085,367.

In 2016, the US also took the lead in international patent filings, having registered a total of 215,918 filings abroad. Japan took the second spot with 191,118, with all other countries falling below the 100,000 mark.

The US takes the lead in yet another important aspect, patent maintenance. According to a Bloomberg report, about 85.6% of applicants paid maintenance fees for applications filed in 2013.

Domestic Patent Application Trends

When it comes to the total number of domestic filings, the US market has consistently fallen in second place. For instance, in 2016, it had a total of 605,571 domestic patent applications registering a year-on-year growth of 2.7% since 2015. The 2017 figure shows a very slight improvement from 2016, with a total of 606,956 applications. These statistics place the US in the second spot behind China in the total number of local patent filings.

Notably, only approximately half of all patent applications in the country get approval. Statista data shows that the total number of patents granted in 2017 was 347,243. In 2016, the number was slightly lower, at 334,107.

Top 10 Patent Applicants

In 2018, the applicant with the highest number of patent filings was IBM, having filed a total of 9,100 applications. The figure marked an improvement of 1% over 2017 for the company and placed it miles ahead of Samsung Electronics which took second place with 5,850 applications. IBM reports that 2018 marked the 26th year it got the top spot with regards to US-issued patents. During that period, it has filed more than 110,000 patents, most of which it says are related to cloud computing, AI, quantum computing, blockchain and cybersecurity.

Interestingly, the list of top 10 applicants contains six US companies and four foreign ones. The US companies on the list include:

  • Intel Corp, no.4, 2,735
  • Microsoft, no.7, 2,353
  • Qualcomm, no.8, 2,300
  • Apple Inc., no. 9, 2,160
  • Ford Global Technologies, no. 10, 2,123

Apart from Samsung which is based in South Korea, foreign companies on the top 10 list of applicants include:

  • Canon, Japan, no. 3, 3,056
  • LG Electronics, South Korea, no. 5, 2,474
  • Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, no. 6, 2,465

From First-to-Invent to First-to-File

In 2013, the US shifted from a first-to-invent patent model to first-to-file. In essence, this new rule implied that no matter who invents an innovation, the first person to file will be awarded the patent. This has made many startup founders realize the need to file early to protect their innovative concepts.

One of the most gnawing concerns for such founders is the filing cost, which is rather steep. In view of the fact that a new concept might not even make it to market, some hold back from filing before completing thorough research. However, more founders are opting to protect their innovations by filing provisional patent applications to get patent pending status. Not only is this substantially cheaper, but the application process, as explains, is also a lot less complex.

Room for Improvement

Though the US has maintained its position as a global leader in areas such as international filings and number of patents in force, there is still room for improvement in other areas. One of these is in domestic and foreign patent applications, wherein improvements could include:

  • Improving the maintenance rate – Though the US market already enjoys a high maintenance rate of over 85%, there is still room for improvement. The benefits of patents only apply for as long as the protection remains in force.
  • Recognizing the significance of filing patents – Startups are gradually realizing the importance of intellectual property (IP) protection and potential economic benefits. It reduces the risks of infringing on other innovators’ rights, creates an opportunity to monetize inventions and enhances appeal to potential investors.
  • Filing patent pending – Startups can benefit greatly from the cost-effective PPA option that provides patent pending status and offers time for more market research into innovations.
  • The US as a springboard for international filing – Filing in the US opens up one of the largest markets in the world where the patenting process is transparent, very rigorous and organized, giving founders the confidence to pursue coverage elsewhere in the world. Provisional application filing in the US is where founders should begin their journey to protecting their products around the world.

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