Where are all the patent practitioners?

By Jason Rantanen

A question from two economist friends, Nicholas Ziebarth and Michael Andrews, got me interested in the geographic distribution of patent practitioners in the U.S. and any correlations with issued utility patents and populations.  Using the January 8, 2017 list of patent practitioners from the USPTO, the PTO’s data on utility patents issued to inventors by state, and population estimations for 2016 (wikipedia), I put together the following figures.  They show what one might expect: patents, population and patent attorneys exhibit high degrees of correlation, although there is some interesting variation.  All the linear regressions are highly significant (p<0.001).  Some data caveats follow.

patents-v-poppatents-v-practitionerpractitioners-v-popCalifornia is a clear outlier, as is probably D.C.  In the below charts I’ve removed California.  As you can see, the correlation coefficient goes down.  It’s not apparent due to the scaling of the graphs, but the slope of the line also goes down.  Removing D.C. (where there are lots of registered patent practitioners but few inventors) has the opposite effect when it comes to patents/patent practitioner.  To give another sense of the magnitude of the California effect, 19% (8124/43542) of this set of patent practitioners are California residents and 29% (40/196/140928) of this set of patents has a first named inventor who was a California resident.

patents-v-pop-no-capatents-v-practitioners-no-capractitioners-v-pop-no-ca(Iowa is marked in red.  We have a lower than average number of patent attorneys per population but a slightly higher than average number of patents with U.S. inventors per patent attorney.)

Notes on the data:

  • This analysis entirely ignores patents whose first named inventor is not resident in the 50 states and District of Columbia and patent practitioners who do not reside in those places.  When it comes to patents, this is big: since 2009, over half of issued patents have had a first-named inventor who was not a U.S. resident. It’s less of an effect with patent practitioners: of the 44,897 registered practitioners, 43,579 are U.S. residents.
  • The patent attorney list is subject to concerns about whether it is overinclusive, as discussed in Zachary Kinnaid’s previous posts, and how up-to-date the addresses are.  This comparison also involves data from different years (1/1/2017 versus patents granted in 2015), although there probably isn’t much a change in terms of geographic distribution of patent attorneys over the time. In addition, many registered patent attorneys do not currently engage in patent prosecution activities.
  • The data on patents-per-state is based on the residence of the first named inventor.   This means that the other inventors are ignored in this analysis.  It also means that assignments are not reflected.

My data file is linked if anyone wants to play around with it.  Regression outputs from Stata are here.  If you see any mistakes, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know via email.  You are free to reuse this dataset or graphs, although I would appreciate an acknowledgement.

26 thoughts on “Where are all the patent practitioners?

  1. Re the locations of patent practitioners in the US reminded me of this recent article that may, for some, fall into the “be careful what you wish for” department:

    link to bostonreview.net

    Policy decisions—not God, nature, or the invisible hand—exposed American manufacturing workers to direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. Policymakers could have exposed more highly paid workers such as doctors and lawyers to this same competition, but a bipartisan congressional consensus, and presidents of both parties, instead chose to keep them largely protected.

    If we applied our free-trade principles to medical and dental services, as well as to the work of other highly paid professionals [like patent attorneys], we would establish an international system of credentialing that would allow foreign professionals to train to our standards and practice in the United States….

    Ending protectionism for highly paid professionals and intellectual property would help to reverse the past four decades of upward income redistribution, but it will not be enough on its own. …

    Reply
    1. Ending protectionism for highly paid professionals and intellectual property would help to reverse the past four decades of upward income redistribution, but it will not be enough on its own. …

      Interesting. I have to doubt though that your feelings are really confirmed by this story, as this is less a reason for any income movement (as doctors and lawyers have always been highly paid, and would not drive things higher).

      You do need to get into a profession in which you can believe in.

      Reply
      1. doctors and lawyers have always been highly paid

        Right. Certified “professionals” in all fields tend to be paid higher. Higher still when obtaining certification to practice in the US requires, e.g., US citizenship and/or a degree from a US school.

        Like you, I thought the article was interesting. It’s easy (or it can be easy) to miss or forget all the various factors that led one to one’s financial “success.”

        Reply
        1. I can’t tell if you’re legit getting on board with protectionism or if your thinking is bending towards “poverty for all!1111! especially whitey Mclawlyer!”. Or if you didn’t really have any hard-and-fast thoughts on the issue at all.

          Reply
        2. And yet, your reply overlooks the point of my post – that the “feeling” you have from the story simply is not supported by reality.

          There is NO “drive things higher” because of the item that appears to cause your extreme cognitive dissonance.

          Reply
    2. “Policy decisions—not God, nature, or the invisible hand—exposed American manufacturing workers to direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. Policymakers could have exposed more highly paid workers such as doctors and lawyers to this same competition, but a bipartisan congressional consensus, and presidents of both parties, instead chose to keep them largely protected.”

      Obviously. Thank the democratic lawlyers association (I forget their acronyms off hand) and the AMA etc.

      “If we applied our free-trade principles to medical and dental services, as well as to the work of other highly paid professionals [like patent attorneys], we would establish an international system of credentialing that would allow foreign professionals to train to our standards and practice in the United States….

      Ending protectionism for highly paid professionals and intellectual property would help to reverse the past four decades of upward income redistribution, but it will not be enough on its own. …”

      Make patent lawlyers compete with foreigners! Yay! MAGA? Wait? I’m not so sure about that. Maybe where we went wrong was exposing all workers to that much foreign competition? I’m confuzzled. Don’t we want everyone’s income to rise here in Merica?

      Also though this does leave on the table the fact that places like Mehico already have a lot of people that come from the US for medical treatments, and often times they’re not hugely satisfied with the results. Lax certification in the ROW does have its downsides. Probably for lawlyers as well to an extent.

      Reply
      1. Don’t we want everyone’s income to rise here in Merica?

        LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

        If only 6’s wishes were ponies ….

        Reply
    3. lol was checking out the rest of that lefty rag site where the article is from:

      Wherein they redefine misogynicalism to not have the dictionary definition of hating women, but tell us what they really mean by “misogyny” today. It’s an all new misogyny you guys! Heaven knows it might not actually be hatred of women, and it’s totally not something different that doesn’t actually have a stigma (because it isn’t hatred, dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice)!

      link to bostonreview.net

      Reply
      1. Also anon, Ned, etc. in the gallery, if you guys happen to click on the above article about misogynicalism take note of what that article (and a hundred others like it) are trying to do. Maintain the relevance of their “muh oppressors” narrative in a world where it practically doesn’t exist for the vast majority of the population by redefining their terms while hoping to maintain the social stigma of the terms. Of course, this eventually will simply water down their terms, and the social stigma attached thereto. It’s the same thing happening with the term RAYCYSM. And which happened in long ages past with “classism”.

        Reply
        1. What would I do without your insights here, 6? I might have to venture into the pigsh*t where you breed. That would sxck.

          Reply
  2. Two obvious, increasing and related reasons for the lack of correlation between inventor and patent attorney locales are the massive corporate outsourcing of patent application preparation, prosecution and enforcement on a broad competitive basis and the ease of doing so enabled by remote email transmissions of all documents digitally.

    Reply
  3. Well I had fun playing with the dataset.
    I wasn’t bothered by the imperfection of using only “first named inventors,” as the first named inventor is most likely the primary inventor, and if not, it probably evens out over time.
    More suspect is the ratio of patents to patent practitioners, as it is very common among corporations to have patent practitioners in other states prosecute patent applications. For my company’s inventors in New York, we have patent applications prosecuted by practitioners in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, and elsewhere. Since the data excluded patents with a first named inventor not a resident of the United States, firms in DC and Northern Virginia that do mostly prosecution for non-US clients would not have many patents among the data examined.
    Nevertheless, I had fun playing with the numbers. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. For some fun with numbers (that may have some interesting – and valid – takeaways), one can trend the registration number density in factors like geography or identified firms.

      One can partition the analysis by agent/attorney status as well.

      Reply
  4. Where there are more people there are more patent practitioners.

    And where there are more patent practitioners there are more patents.

    And where there are more patents there are more people.

    Ignoring California, your regression coefficients suggest that a linear model explains about 60%-70% of the observed variation. You tiny p-values just tell you that the residuals are completely random, and you are almost certainly not going to do better with some alternative nonlinear model for the relationships between people, practitioners and patents.

    So, there’s an underlying linear relationship (more is more, less is less), but also a lot of completely random variation, state-to-state.

    None of this seems surprising or useful. Nor does it tell us anything about cause and effect. And the reduction in correlation coefficients and slope is a completely predictable and normal result of removing a high outlier – it’s just maths.

    I might be caused to wonder why it is that patent practitioners appear to be so much more productive in some states than others, but this dataset doesn’t seem to tell us much about that because, as noted above, your analysis basically says it’s nothing more than random variation with respect to your variables.

    Your economist friends may have led you on a wild goose chase. I recently saw some work on this kind of thing that was done on behalf of the Japanese Patent Office, but I doubt that the cultural and structural reasons why it might be pertinent in Japan are likely to apply in the US. Was this, perhaps, what triggered your friends’ thinking?

    Reply
    1. Good stuff Mark, which set me thinking about the EPO, where its patent applications come from and where its registered practitioners sit, within the 38 Member State European Patent Organisation. The stats on that are published every year by the EPI:

      link to information.patentepi.com

      36% in Germany, close to 19% in the UK, 9% in France, nearly 5% in Switzerland, hardly more than 4% in The Netherlands and less than 2% in Spain. I wonder how BREXIT will change the current spread of European patent attorney firms , which distribution is surely no guide to how many inventors reside in each of the 38 EPC countries.

      Reply
    2. If MM were correct that all patents are the mind games of the patent practitioners, the correlation of inventors and patent practitioners would have to be perfect.

      Reply
    3. Valid points. I probably should have just presented these as population metrics, since they’re population data rather than a random sample. As population metrics, I’m skeptical about the idea that differences among the states are due to completely random variation. The purpose of the post was just to illustrate the state-by-state variation rather than provide causal explanations. When it comes to causal explanations for the variation, some immediately suggest themselves. For example, D.C. and Virginia have a lot of patent practitioners because that’s where the USPTO and many administrative agencies are geographically located.

      To clarify on my friends, I was just giving credit for the inspiration, rather than a specific project they suggested. Sometimes falling down the rabbit hole generates useful data; sometimes not.

      On the use of first-named inventors: I agree that there are problems with it. A better way would be to use a full-patent dataset and use all the inventors. I do not have such a dataset. This is also a deeper critique than of just the methodology here, since it’s the way the USPTO has been reporting this type of data for years, and it’s the way that the frequently-cited “foreign inventors” statistic is almost always determined.

      Reply
      1. The USPTO chosen metrics have L O N G been suspect (and in multiple areas and for multiple reasons).

        Reply
      2. I don’t think the fact that these are population metrics is relevant. Your results still indicate that the best model, given your variables, is a linear relationship with a large random variation. Random sampling, instead of using the whole population, would increase the randomness, but a proper analysis would enable you to estimate the contributions due to the sampling and due to the data itself. In short, your model shouldn’t change (unless your sample is too small, or is somehow biased), although your level of confidence in the model would be lower.

        I have no doubt that you are right about there being underlying causal explanations for some of the variation. But your data cannot tell us anything about that, and in interpreting the variation as other than random you are using information that the model does not have. Now, if you were to add some more variables, such as “proximity to a relevant administrative agency office”, or “proximity to Silicon Valley”, for example, then your model might be able to explain the variations as something other than randomness, and hence confirm (or refute) your hypotheses.

        Reply
  5. Data that depends on “first named inventors” is immediately suspect.

    Why waste your time?

    Reply
        1. If you are going to associate a patent with a location, you have to pick some location, why is the location of the lead inventor faulty?

          Reply
          1. Because you are treating the lead inventor as more than what a lead inventor signifies.

            You are assuming that one can make random choices (your “going to associate a patent with a location”) and try to treat the association with more value than it inherently has.

            Reply

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