US Patents: Where are the Inventors Located?


Country of First Named Inventor FY2014 Patent Count
Japan 54975 18%
Germany 16730 5%
Korea 16280 5%
Taiwan 11303 4%
China 7694 3%
Canada 7218 2%
France 6812 2%
UK 6700 2%
Israel 3453 1%
India 3005 1%
Sweden 2754 1%


* The numbers above are based upon the inventor country as listed for the first-named inventor on the face of each U.S. utility patent.  Although there are an increasing number of cross-country patents (with inventors listing different countries), those numbers are negligible in a population analysis such as this. The results for assignee-country are virtually parallel with the exception that about 6% of U.S. patents are issued without a listed assignee.

About Dennis Crouch

Law Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. Co-director of the Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship.

12 thoughts on “US Patents: Where are the Inventors Located?

  1. This isn’t a surprise. Japanese inventors are one top because they put high regards on getting patents for their inventions. According to 2014 list of most innovative companies, 4 companies are from Japan(correct me if I’m wrong).This is based on the total number of patents issued this year.

  2. With the U.S. corporate tax system encouraging keeping or spending offshore profits offshore, I wonder if there has been an increase in total U.S. company owned foreign R&D facilities, and thus an increase in patents with foriegn inventor domiciles but U.S. company paid for and owned inventions?

    1. Sure, I’d bet that there has been, though at the scale of these numbers I suspect it might end up being lost in the large sample size similar to the cross-national inventors note. I think separating these out or not would also depend on what you are trying to get at with the data. For instance, I assume the point of this would be to allow us to count say an RCA (in the past) or other US company’s Taiwan branch as a “US” invention despite its first inventor most likely being noted as residing in Taiwan. This seems a bit counter productive, however, if the idea is to use patent counts to get an idea of where innovation is happening (there are a multitude of reasons a US company might set up an R&D or other patent producing entities in a foreign country, but at least one of those must be the idea that being there gives it an innovative advantage of some sort to balance out with other US-based centers).

      Then again, if the goal is to talk about national/cultural innovativeness then using inventor locations has already been problematic for a very long time given the sheer number of foreign scientists and engineers who work in the United States (regardless of their immigration or, later, citizen status). An additional level of problem for this type of tracing based on company “nationality” is that it would require a fair amount of “touching” of each data point in a huge sample to follow not the assignee’s “country”, but its ultimate owner’s headquarter’s country. Many Taiwanese companies, for instance, use a corporate structure where the ultimate “owner” company is located in the British Virgin Islands (etc.). Should these count as Taiwanese or BVE (in my limited experience, patents tend to be held by the Taiwanese entity)? Where and how would we draw the line? In the Taiwanese case, while this “off shoring” has something to do with taxation issues, it often has more to do with skirting the strict investment restrictions that Taiwan’s ROC government puts on Taiwanese firms doing business in China (a BVE firm can easily own companies in both places, but a Taiwanese firm would have some difficulty owning a Chinese firm and vice versa).

      Companies who stash a portion of their patent portfolios in patent holding companies (often with unrelated names) would also present some difficulty for tracing as I’m sure many in-house and in-firm folks have seen in their own patent threat searches.

      As you noted in comment 3, then given Japanese (and Taiwanese) differences with US and European (or US or European?) patenting habits, to what degree can we use patent counts (or percentages of total issued in the US) as comparable indicators of anything? There is good reason to suspect, for instance, that while Chinese companies are innovating, that a large number of the patents being applied for in China are of somewhat questionable value.

      1. just saw an episode of Family Feud where the poll was, “which country has the smartest people?” Obviously most of the people said USA because that’s where the poll took place. Germany, Korea, and Japan weren’t even on the list! I was shocked. Anyways, just thought I’d share that.

        I think most of these other countries are trying to protect their invention from being stolen by citizens of the U.S. Obviously, there is a lot of negativity associated with Americans throughout the world, and for good reason I might add. Patents have hindered technological advancements if you ask me. Especially since the onslaught of patent trolls.

  3. The especially high Japanese filings are to a considerable extent due to their long term philosophy of using patent application filings defensively to protect their vital need to export their products. Hence, initial application filings in Japan are extensive, have low filing fees, and are usually not written by patent attorneys. Many are abandoned, but a minority share of those large numbers leads to more U.S. filings as well. [While defensive publications would be cheaper, they potentially disclose product plans 18 months earlier.]
    BTW, the AIA has massively increased the amount of prior art available against ALL new U.S. applications by moving the effective prior art date of all foreign-priority-based U.S. published applications and patents back to their foreign priority filing date. [This has vastly more practical impact than the elimination of 102(g).] This AIA change will gradually increase the U.S. infringement suit defense value of foreign-based U.S. patents by giving them an earlier prior art date against new patents.

  4. I’ll bet that not many of the Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 foresaw that his election would make Americans nearly twice as innovative as they had been under George Walker Bush.

  5. Where are the countries with giant innovation engines that aren’t filing patents?

        1. Yeah so, countries with “computers” or countries with “x”? What is the x? What are these “giant innovation engines”? Companies?

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