by Dennis Crouch
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a total of 312,100 utility patents in the calendar year 2023. This marks the fourth consecutive year of decline in the number of issued patents. The 2022 figures show a 3% decrease from the previous year and a 12% decrease from the record-high numbers seen in 2019, as depicted in the chart below. One of the biggest changes from 2022 to 2023 is that non-US patent applicants dropped from 51% of the total down to 48%. In fact, numbers from US-applicants increased over the past year. There was a roughly parallel shift when looking at the % of patents naming a US inventor — up from 47% in 2022 to 50% in 2023.
It’s important to recognize that patent issuance in any given year is largely based on innovations and applications filed 2-5 years prior or more. For example, the 2023 decline reflects a drop in underlying patent filings, R&D, and new invention volume primarily from 2018 to 2020, with most applications pending examination for years before grant. Similarly, the 2022 and prior year patent volumes correlate most directly with late 2010s economic, policy and innovation landscapes. So this data is more of a backwards-looking snapshot. The drivers behind 2023’s applicant mix shift likely originated a few years back as well — established in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Though issuing patents now, the underlying applicant behaviors and investment decisions providing this US boost trace back to the 2020-2022 period or earlier based on typical application lag. Any analysis of the grant mix changes must recognize this context, and account for influencers at the time of filing rather than issuance to best understand the shift.
Rather than an economic indicator, the grant numbers and details surrounding them are (I believe) more reflective of the operation of the USPTO and the faith innovative companies have in the patent system.