In this article, we share helpful patent statistics from The US Patent Office. The US Patent Office was officially established in 1790, by Article One: Section Eight of the US Constitution. The Establishment of the USPTO was to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing limited times to authors and inventors, the exclusive rights to their respective writings and discoveries.”
On April 10th, 1790, George Washington signed the first Patent Act of The United States into law. The first patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins on July 31st, 1790, for a process of making “potash” which is an ingredient used in fertilizer. Patents of the time were signed off by both the President and the Secretary of State. Soon that proved impractical and the job was assigned to the clerks in the US Department of State. Dr. William Thornton was assigned the job of first clerk of the Department of State in 1802 and given sole responsibility over patent applications on June 1st of 1802, which in effect opened the first US Patent Office. Trademark registration was added to the functions of the USPO in 1881. Now the USPTO has a campus comprised of five main buildings.
Since that time, over 6.3 million patents have been issued and the patent office receives more than 326k patent applications per year. There are over 300 Intellectual Property and patent offices worldwide which WIPO is attempting to organize. Statistics show that over 2 million patent applications were filed worldwide in 2011; that was the largest increase in patent history, showing a 7.8% increase over 2010.
Of the 503,582 patent filings in the US in 2011, roughly 50% were granted. The USPTO has been working with a backlog which holds up the patent process resulting in nearly three years of wait time between filing and the end of pending status. In 2012, the USPTO reduced their backlog from 750K in 2009 to just over 603K which means the office has increased efficiency since the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) was signed into law. The AIA represents the most significant change to patent law since 1836, according to David J. Kappos, the Director of the USPTO. The AIA switches the US patent system from “first to invent” to “first inventor to file”, eliminates interference proceedings and develops post grant opposition. AIA was signed into law on September 16, 2011 by President Barack Obama; its central provisions will go into effect on March 16th, 2013.
Whenever an application fails the USPTO it is generally because those filing the application failed to meet one or more of the three main criteria; the most often being whether the invention is obvious. In other words, inventions must be novel or unique from any other, so a can opener is a can opener, unless it is an electric one, or it fits in a pocket, or folds in half. The second criterion is if the invention is obvious based on whatever is already in use. For instance, a motorized bike has already been invented and patented, but if a new design makes it more efficient then the new design may be patented, so long as it is not the obvious result of technology that already exists. Finally, the invention must be useful.
The USPTO has grown from one clerk to over 11,000 employees in 2012. To put that into perspective, we have an elected congress of 435 State Representatives and 100 Senators; the PTO has over 14 times as many employees working as patent examiners. Patent examiners are generally recruited from universities around the country, while trademark examiners must be licensed attorneys. The USPTO is a forerunner of telework with over 7300 employees working from home at least one day per week in the 2012 fiscal year.
Intellectual Ventures holds the most US patents. Intellectual Ventures, a private company with a focus of developing a large patent portfolio, and the licensing those patents to other companies. Their estimated patent portfolio was 15k-20k in 2011, and has been growing with patent deals made this year.
IBM has the distinction of being the corporation awarded the most patents since 1997. The last statistics available from the USPTO showed that IBM still held the number one position in 2010, but that office no longer issues a top ten list.
Of all available data, Kia Silverbrook has received the most patents from the USPTO for utility patents (new inventions) every year since 2007. Kia Silverbrook is from Australia, and considers himself a “serial entrepreneur” having founded companies and developed products in a wide range of areas. Kia Silverbrook is also the most prolific inventor of all time, with a total of 4508 granted US patents as of October 2012. He has 9740 patents or patent applications registered nationally.
According to a report from the USPTO, 97.1% of patents are now filed electronically; up from 71.7% in 2008. The USPTO goal of clearing the oldest patent applications first (COPA) achieved a 99% success rate, with only 32,365 of the original “Tail” or backlogged cases remaining to be worked. The new First Action Interview Pilot Program allows participants to conduct an interview with the examiner as soon as the prior art search has been conducted. This program has resulted in greater efficiency by increasing the ability to prosecute an application; enhancing interaction between the applicant and the examiner, and the resolution of patentability issues through a one-on-one with the examiner.