Independent Inventors

IndependentInventorshipThe chart above shows the percentage of U.S. patents issued to Inventors and not (reportedly) assigned to any organization or government. The data comes from the PTO.  While this chart shows a dramatic drop, the actual number of inventor-owned patents has stayed relatively stable over the past decade — the dropping percentage is due more to a rise in the number of patents granted to corporate owners.  The drop here does not necessarily mean that independent inventors are being squeezed-out — just that the rise in patent grants is not due to independent inventors.


39 thoughts on “Independent Inventors

  1. 12

    maybe a higher percentage of foreign origin cases which in my experience are more likely to be assigned to a corporation???

  2. 11

    Look what that mean old PTO did to this poor independent inventor!

    Here’s the representative claim:

    38. A method for the treatment of a viral infection comprising:

    a) forming a mixture of coffee grounds and honey; and

    b) treating a virus that causes the viral infection with said coffee grounds-honey mixture.

    In a nutshell: As Gee acknowledges, coffee grounds and honey have each proven to be individually successful in treating viral infections.

    Okay. So small inventor Gee has some awesome data showing amazing, unexpected synergy, of course. Right?

    The specification of the ’404 application states that “[i]t is suspected that the combination of a bee product and caffeine produces . . . a synergistic effect.” J.A. 32. But unsupported statements in the specification will not support a finding of unexpected results.

    Aw, man, that’s soooooo unfair. Like right there is probably a $1 million dollars vacuumed out of the economy because of silly evidentiary requirements that small inventors can’t possibly be expected to provide. How can they create all the jobs that ever existed with onerous rules like this???

    1. 11.1

      Hey, MM, this is Anderson’s Black Rock.

      X has known utility Z.

      Y has known utility Z.

      X + Y has what utility? Z?

      Z? The court says. Z? That’s all? Not Z+?

      This is why I said in another post that what the Supreme Court has been looking for since Hotchkiss was at least some functional improvement. If a combination does nothing at all to improve anything, the courts are not going to find the claims patentable.

      1. 11.1.1

        “what the Supreme Court has been looking for since Hotchkiss was at least some functional improvement”

        But don’t claim it as a functional claim!

        I count 27.39 angels on the head of the pin. If you don’t get the same number when you count, you are a low-life scum!

  3. 10

    This is very interesting.

    Texas inventors recently contacted the PTO asking for information about their databases in order to extract information in a study we are conducting. There were inconsistencies as to what fields existed for each database and their staff did not know what the acceptable values were for each. We were told neither contained utilized fields for entity size though applicants must declare upon filing. They have yet to get back with us. We have been working around manually.

    Meanwhile, they have unexpectedly and without notice released their own study. That leaves us wondering if this is a coincidence.

    From the end of May we have so far reviewed the last 330 patents issued. Of them only 9 were issued to small entities (inventors and small businesses with less than 20M in sales) which would be just over 2.7% of issued patents. The numbers would of course be worse for inventors -those who by the PTO’s definition have yet to report assignment of their patents. Of the 9 small entity patents we found, only 2 were not assigned. Based on the PTO methodology of only including those not assigned we thus far have only found .6% of the last 330 issued patents went to inventors -only a 10th of what the PTO has thus far reported.

    Therefore, it appears the affects of the changes in law over at least the last 10 years have been drastic and greatly to the prejudice of small entities and inventors. We and our allies are not surprised. As we have said these changes are destroying inventors and small entities. We will complete our study and publish our results.

    1. 10.1

      We and our allies

      Funnny stuff.

      When are you going to get around to telling us exactly who you are?

  4. 9

    Perhaps filtering for entity type (discounted vs. undiscounted large entity) (if data is accessible) could help unravel the over/under inclusion issues. The points regarding (1) unassigned corporate applications to hide true identity and (2) independent inventors using their own inventor-created business entity as their assignee are well taken. For independent co-inventors, creating a business entity to hold their patents can reduce issues associated with an individual inventor licensing out from under another co-inventor, joining all parties to a suit, etc. Tax advantages aside.

  5. 8

    In looking at patents with no recorded assignment as of their issue date one has to add the unknown number of those filed by companies that do not want to disclose their ownership of the patent [to avoid competitive tracking of their R&D efforts or future products]. But also, as noted in one comment below. one also has to subtract the unknown numbers of individual inventors that have incorporated [for tax, investment, or other reasons] and assigned their patent to that or a successor corporation.
    As to the former, the currently pending new patent legislation will provide a recovery penalty for failure to properly identify the current patent owner in the PTO assignment records in connection with enforcement of the patent.

  6. 7

    I am glad that Google, Cisco, Intel, Apple and all others that altruistically care about the ‘little guy’ are pu$hing new legislation that will incent (and reduce risk for) Independent Inventors, make it easier for them to attract investment capital, and will make it easier for such inventors (and their investors) to enforce their valid patents. “Streamlining” is the buzzword — wasn’t it the buzzword back in 2011 for the AIA ????

    I mean c’mon — if your patent is a ‘good patent’ then you have NOTHING to worry about – and of course, we have decades of stable case law showing that it is quite easy for anyone to predict their chance of prevailing in patent lititgation. And litigation is not that expensive — it is quite easy to use a patent yourself to stop large Silicon Valley bemeouths (the altrustic guys listed at the beginning of this post) from just lifting your technology and ‘bundling’ it in the latest version of their product.

    I am also glad that the Realtors, Retailers and Restaurant owners are signing on to this ‘mom-and-pop friendly’ legislation – I firmly believe that these 3 industries are the engine for future economic growth, and that by strengthening these 3 critical industries we will make America more competitive in the Global Economy — our JCPenny will kick the Chinese JCPenny’s rear and keep America on top.


    1. 7.1

      Eugene, the good Senators have got to wake up an recognize they are being lied to.

      Thanks for the post.

  7. 6

    Anyone here know of the trends over the last 15 years in self-employment, consultancy, and incorporation?

    For example, consider individual inventors who are “self-employed” and are not working for an entity they do not own, a large corporation etc.; what are the statistics re. frequency of incorporation of businesses by those individual inventors over the last 15 years?

    If in 2000 hardly any of the individual self-employed inventors chose to incorporate but then over the last 15 years it started to make sense (or for some other reason a trend started) so that now 55% of that same population are incorporated, would not this incredibly simple factor account for the numbers or at least play a large role?

  8. 5

    In many ways the giant losses by some big corporations in patent law suits fueled the corporations to value patents. That lead to the hiring of 10’s of thousands of engineers with the task of innovating. The cost of actually filing patents and the patent attorneys is a tiny percentage of the cost of building a innovation engine at a corporation.

    Why does this blog not only permit but encourage the anti-patent movement (fueled by corporate money) to flourish and fester in their misrepresentations?

    What do you think happens (anti-patent boz0s) when a vice-president is tasked with doubling the number of patent filings? It puts massive pressure on the engineers to generate more innovation and ends up with the mangers figuring out how to encourage innovation and provide environments for the engineers to innovate.

    I have seen this and sat down with vice-president of giant multinational corporations as they build their innovation engines so that they don’t get out innovated in the next generation of products.

    (Fact the cost of filing patents is tiny compared with research.)

    You know, the entire point of wanting to end patents by most multinational corporations is that they don’t want this pressure of either innovating or losing. They would rather hunker down into a semi-monopoly state and survive by their size and by paying off the governments of the world. Much safer bet and a lot more comfortable position to be in then having to hire a bunch of engineers and scientist and innovate.

    That is reality my anti-patent either ignorant or disingenuous fellow bloggers.

    1. 5.1

      Patent filing cost: about 1 % of the cost of the research. Tragedy: the engineers and software developers haven’t figured out that patents empowered them. The managers need to provide patent application friendly environments and the patent filers can change companies.

      But, I am sure this blog will Fox News the entire situation.

    2. 5.2

      Time Waster, big companies have competitors and big companies compete on price, quality or time. The better mousetrap at lower cost will outsell its competitor’s mousetrap.

      In this environment, patents have little to do with innovation. What patents do is protect the investment against a rival competitor shutting the company down through a patent lawsuit. When a company is heavily invested in patents they are armored against a patent lawsuit from a competitor. As a result, big company competitors exist either in a Mexican standoff or in a cross license.

      1. 5.2.1

        environment, patents have little to do with innovation.

        Sadly, you are deeply mistaken. Your lack of understanding of the dynamics of innovation is appalling given your level of advocacy here.

      2. 5.2.2

        Ned, “Patents have little to do with innovation” doesn’t match the defining patent conflict of the past decade: Apple v. Samsung.

        Here you have a clear-cut case of product knockoff. The iPhone was the product of a vast amount of R&D in both utility and design, and Samsung directly copied vast chunks of it:

        An internal memo from February 2010 emerged in the Apple vs. Samsung trial on Monday that was fairly damaging to Samsung’s case.

        In the memo, mobile boss JK Shin expressed outrage at how far Samsung’s user experience had fallen behind even Apple’s first iPhone, which was already three years old at that time. The difference between the iPhone’s UX and Samsung’s devices was like “Heaven and Earth,” Shin wrote repeatedly.

        One month after that memo was sent, Samsung assembled a massive 132-slide report comparing the iPhone’s user interface to Samsung Galaxy interface, and it detailed hundreds of ways that Samsung devices should be more like Apple’s. “In short, the evaluation report makes the case that the Galaxy (identified here as the “S1″) would be better if it behaved more like the iPhone and featured a similar user interface,” explained John Paczkowski and Ina Fried of AllThingsD.

        The result of this dispute was that Apple won over $400 million in patent infringement lawsuits in the U.S., and injunctions in several countries.

        I’m sure that you’d get some disagreement from AUTM – the entire technology transfer profession is established around the idea of transferring technology to industry, with patents bridging the gap between academic research and products on shelves.

  9. 4

    has stayed relatively stable over the past decade

    Relatively – that’s the key word….

    A much sharper picture comes from viewing the data in a different format.

    Take the data given, compute the total grants, and then picture the total grants normalized by 2001 level against the independent grants also normalized by 2001 (respectively).

    This reveals the magic year of 2010.

    No surprise really, as that was the year that the AIA was looking like it was locked in.

    Yes the independent also rose a bit (but not ever reaching the 2001 level). However, the full total more than doubled.

    The rise of the independent can more be labeled (more credibly) as an effect of “the rising tide lifts all boats” – but the AIA really benefited the non-independents.

    1. 4.1

      Are you suggesting that the AIA is responsible for the observed trends (i.e., the steady and relative increase in the filing of patents by corporations up until 2010, where the annual increase in corporate filings begins — finally — to decrease?).

      Other than that, it’s impossible to tell what point you’re trying to make.

      “Rise of the independent”? What?

      1. 4.1.1

        I am suggesting that you apply a little critical thinking instead of reaching for your short script.

        The truly phenom increase did NOT happen until 2010, as the properly normed data quite readily shows.

        It is most definitely NOT a case of “impossible to tell,” but it does require you to unclench your eyes and be willing to think.


          It is most definitely NOT a case of “impossible to tell,”

          Keep digging, if you like. Nobody knows what the heck you’re talking about.


            The guy clutching the shovel is telling others to keep digging.


            Go figure.

  10. 3

    Do I see a turning point around the year 2008. Could that be because, by then, every engineering corporation had exhausted the possibilities to pump up the numbers in their patent portfolio.

    Over the last 15 years, my impression has been that American corporations need more patents more than they need more patentable inventions.

    Faced with a few patents, a competitor might decide to fight. But faced with a hundred, what else can one do but settle. I recall the old (apocryphal?) story about IBM and the 7 patents. Rebuffed, it retorts that it can bring up another 7, and then another 7, and on and on till the target takes a licence.

    1. 3.2

      It is just reprehensible the lack of morals and ethics of the anti-patent movement.

      Fact: the need for more patents does not just fuel more patent filings but more innovation. What did Microsoft do when they decided that patents were important? They built a corporate research division and hired some of the top researchers in the world.

      The anti-patent movement is just vile.

      1. 3.2.1

        Night, the system is broken, and the likes of IBM are behind it. Read the Forbes article.

      2. 3.2.2

        the need for more patents does not just fuel more patent filings but more innovation.

        Occasionally it’s worth remembering that not every problem confronted by society requires “innovation” to address. Most of the important problems, in fact, require no innovation whatsoever. They require some work and, perhaps, some sacrifice.

        I know that’s really hard for some people to digest.

        Patents can be a useful tool for promoting progress in certain endeavors, when the system is functioning as it should. But they certainly are not necessarily the best tool for promoting progress in all endeavors and there is absolutely zero evidence that “more is better” … unless, of course, you look at the system from the perspective of a patent attorney who sees every lawsuit as an opportunity to grab some cash, or from the perspective of a litigious gambler with a huge comfy wad of cash to spend.


          What precisely do you mean when you use the term “promoting progress”? Obviously you mean to say something more than just regurgitate something contained in Article 1, Section 8.

    2. 3.3

      Excellent Forbes article. link to

      It calls IBM and its ilk, abusers of the patent system.

      “In corporate America, this type of shakedown is repeated weekly. The patent as stimulant to invention has long since given way to the patent as blunt instrument for establishing an innovation stranglehold. Sometimes the antagonist is a large corporation, short on revenue-generating products but long on royalty-generating patents. On other occasions, an opportunistic “entrepreneur” who only produces patent applications uses the system’s overly broad and undisciplined patent grant to shake down a potential competitor.

      Abusers of the patent system have been aided and abetted by the USPTO. At best, the office has abdicated its role in forming patent policy. More accurately, the office has concluded, without the benefit of analysis, that more patents are better for society. In fact, every patent issued comes at significant economic cost. Usually, a company needs to make better products more cheaply to succeed. But as an incentive to innovate, a patent holder gets a free pass from the rigors and challenges of competition.”

      A lot of this thinking were spurred by that “Rembrandts in the Attic” book that transformed many corporations into filers of patent applications for the purposes of gaining revenue off the size of the pile, or countering the argument from the likes of IBM that their pile was bigger than your pile, and therefore you owed them money without ever getting into whether or not there was actual infringement of any valid patent.

      But anyone would agree that issuing broad, indefinite, and obvious patents only fosters abuse. But that has been the practice is not the policy of the patent office at least through the Kappos (IBM) era. Let us hope the new director understands what the patent office has been doing to the American economy and to the American patent system.

      1. 3.3.1

        Accusing someone of infringing a patent without due diligence: Awful when done by a small guy, who gets called a patent troll; just fine when done by IBM, who gets a fat check.


          SVG: Awful when done by a small guy, who gets called a patent troll; just fine when done by IBM,

          Not at all, SVG. Many of us understood that IBM was a leader in junk patent procurement. That’s why Kappos was a joke.

          But you seem to have forgotten, SVG, that it took a long time for you and your patent-lovin’ cohorts to recognize that these “little guys” waving around their junk patents are reprehensible scumbags.

          What took you so long?

          Rhetorical question.


            MM refers to junk patents. And so do a many other critics of the status quo.

            Question for you dude: How would you change the criteria or process for granting patents to avoid the possibility of such junk patents issuing? Or is the only solution to eliminate patents altogether?


              SV, MM has been harping on this for years, and I agree with him on this.

              The PTO must stop issuing patents with functional claims.

              The PTO must stop issuing patents where the novelty is in unpatentable subject matter such as unapplied information.

              The PTO must stop issuing patents with indefinite claims — and must seek to overturn Donaldson or, better, to repeal 112(f), which I understand is under active consideration.

              The PTO must stop issuing patents on notorious techniques that are simply automated or applied in a fresh context. MM, please again read Rubber-Tip Pencil.

      2. 3.3.2

        Utter C R P Ned. This is just the anti-patent pig in a silk dress (and yes, your supplied article by Judge O’Malley explicitly warns against the executive branch forming policy as is being promulgated here.

        For shame.

      3. 3.3.3

        Bro the office has done nothing that the entitlement program instated by congress did not demand of it. Do not lay at the feet of the office the sins of the congress’s entitlement program.


          the office has done nothing that the entitlement program instated by congress did not demand of it

          Pretty sure that’s not true of the office under big, bald Dave Kappos’ leadership.

  11. 1

    Let the game$ begin.

    (Note that this “game” is and always has been about the money. Who has it – now – and who wants to have it. A little Adam Smith would help everyone.)

Comments are closed.