Patents Issuing with No Assignee

This is a follow-up post from a recent discussion of assignee-applicants. About 40% of recently filed patent applications are filed without listing any particular assignee in the patent document. One comment queried what percentage of those cases are actually assigned. To start on an answer to that question, I pulled up data on patents issued over the past 10 years and identified the percentage of patents that issue with no assignee designated at the time of patent issuance. The chart below shows that this percentage is now well under 10%.

27 thoughts on “Patents Issuing with No Assignee

  1. One point to consider: the “assignee” information on the published application is not linked by the USPTO to the assignments database. Why, I don’t know – they seem to be able to manage that on the trademark side. The assignee information comes from the ADS, and, until the change to allow assignee applicants just over a year ago, many applicants attorneys just didn’t bother to enter the assignee name in the ADS (or didn’t file ADS forms at all). In some cases the assignees didn’t want their names on the published patents to obscure ownership. With the change to requiring ADS forms, and to have the assignee as the applicant, I suspect that the statistics on assignees for published applications will show a marked increase, starting about 18 months after last March.

    1. Mike you raise an excellent point here about the ADS now being required, and further, that they require the identification of the assignee (if recorded, I presume).

      Companies do not want, as you say, patent applications or in some cases, even patents, to identify the owner because it allows their competitors or potential competitors to know what technology they are pursuing. Keeping their avenues of research secret as long as possible is important.

      At the same time, companies want the prior art benefits of publication. Thus they historically have achieved a compromise on privacy versus the benefits of publications as prior art by keeping their identities as secret as possible for as long as possible.

      The results of the effort of the infringers lobby and do-gooder fellow travelers to force assignee information into the public may result in assignees not recording assignments at all, and/or requesting secrecy of applications. The second option is not possible if the applicant is filing outside United States. Therefore, what may happen is that companies will simply react by not recording assignments.

        1. MM, there are good reasons, very good reasons, to keep one’s line of research secret. People who ignore these reasons in their efforts to smoke out PAEs can only harm the patent system with their do-good efforts.

          Just like the AIA benefited only the big, international filers at the expense of the startup, the Big Companies and their fellow travelers seem quite willing to trample on the patent system to get their way.

          That said, we do have the problem of overbroad and indefinite claims, and of business method patents where you and I see eye-to-eye.

          The casual observer of this thread may view us as a tag team, but we are not. We do not see eye-to-eye on every issue, just most.

  2. That is surprising.

    My question would be: for applications prosecuted by one of the larger patent firms, what percentage of patents are assigned?

    I’d have to assume it’s substantially higher getting the assignments filed in a timely manner is standard practice at these places. It’s also true, of course, that the typical inventor of applications handled by such firms is an employee of a company or university and therefore obligated to assign.

  3. I can say that I have personally gotten better about getting clients to assign their patents into operating entities. I’m probably over 75% now for getting individuals to form an entity and put the rights and agreements in the entity. It’s just so much easier for investors, divestiture, etc.

    1. I think this is a substantial part of the change. Folks who – in the past – would have kept their patents as inventor-owned are now creating an corporate entity who owns the patent rights.

      1. Yes, but the percentage of total patent applications being filed by lone “garage inventors”* with no assignee has been declining for many years for other good reasons as well. R&D in many technologies now takes a lot more equipment and money. Half of all U.S. applications are now from foreign countries, and almost all of those are from corporations. Some large patent firms will not even represent individual inventors any more because of the extra time required, billing issues, and malpractice suit concerns.

        *excluding quite a few mere design patent applications from those being bled and misled by some invention promotion companies.

    2. And, of course, such patent owning LLCs are by definition trolls while a patent held by the original inventors are golden.

      An inventor hiring a lawfirm to sue an infringer is what the patent system is all about. But an LLC hiring a lawful to do the same thing is a troll.

      And so it goes.

      1. I think you missed something in your “what the patent system is all about” by overlooking the fact that the US patent system was explicitly built for full ability to alienate property.

        That’s kind of important.

      2. An inventor hiring a lawfirm to sue an infringer is what the patent system is all about

        LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.

        You said it. I didn’t.

        1. Unfortunately, you failed to read critically. It is clear from the context that Ned is saying the system is apparently set up such that “inventor hiring a lawfirm to sue an infringer is what the patent system is all about. But an LLC hiring a lawful to do the same thing is a troll.”

          Of course, this isn’t the first (or millionth) time* you’ve jumped before looking because you thought you could make a point…

          *Won’t be the last, neither!

          1. I think that the point he likes to make is that his English as a First Language skill set does not include critical reading skills.

            That, or he just likes his self FAIL mode so much.

          2. It is clear from the context that Ned is saying the system is apparently set up such that “inventor hiring a lawfirm to sue an infringer is what the patent system is all about.”

            Is what Ned said true?

  4. I would be curious to see this chart superimposed with the results of abandoned applications.

    While there would be expected some not inconsiderable noise in the signal, I might expect a couple of possible trends from such a view of the data:

    non-assigned applications from truly independent inventors may have a higher fallout rate from rejections based on unknown-to-the-inventor prior art.

    non-assigned applications from inventors that can be tracked and matched with those inventors that typically do assign to corporations may have a higher fallout rate from rejections based on spurious rejections, but not worth fighting if the Corporation has a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality (and yes, I have had client’s with this mentality).

    A deeper dive (albeit not an easy one), correlating inventors, their likely affiliations, and quality of examination would most likely yield the most useful data. But that would mean a lot of work.

    1. Are not statistics on true “abandonments” also hard to come by? Given the PTO treatment of applications that were actually continued to issuance as RCE’s, divisionals, CIP’s or continuations as “abandoned”?

      1. Besides that, I suspect that independent inventors are far more likely to request nonpublication, in which case an abandonment falls right through the statistical cracks.

        1. also a very good point Apotu.

          Of course, recognizing that application numbers are assigned sequentially can reveal the size of the number of applications “otherwise not accounted for.”

    2. the Corporation has a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality (and yes, I have had client’s with this mentality).

      Who hasn’t?

  5. MaxDrei,

    Does this not switch what you attempted to say recently…?

    (not that what you say gets switched often, right ;-) )

    1. anon of course there is a difference between a miniscule 7% of grants without assignment and a steady (and whopping) 40% of ongoing filings in the names of inventors rather than their assignees. If only 7% are unassigned at issue, why are 40% unassigned at the filing date? Good question. Is it perhaps the one you had in mind and which you “attempted” to ask me?

      One explanation is the one in the earlier thread, inertia. Attorneys have always filed in the name of the inventor and do not yet see any reason to change.

      Another explanation is that entrepreneurial activity in the USA is so strong that most of the inventor filers have formed a start up during prosecution, or have sold out to a corporation that assumes ownership already long before issue.

      In your enormous wisdom and perspicacity, what do you think? Care to tell us?

      1. “Attempted” to ask you…?

        There was no attempt.

        Why must you be so coy, when you are so clearly off?

        You ask for my view, yet refuse to listen. I do care to tell – do you care to listen?

        How many horses dead from thirst must pile up next to the water trough for you to change your ways?

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