Sunday 25 September 2011

Exponential Growth of Patents

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently publish an interesting article about the millions of patents issued by the United States of America.  Using the current numbering system, patent #1 was issued in 1836 and patent #8,000,000 was recently issued in August this year.   I plotted issue date against patent number and lo and behold we get exponential growth of patents since the turn of the 20th century:

At this rate, we will see 8 million more patents issued by the end of 2016.  Intellectual property is abundant, perhaps too much so.  Are all these patents totally valid?  Is there any kind of quality control being applied?  Personally, I doubt it.  I don't want to be alarmist, but I really think this is getting totally out of control.

Patents are used as trading tokens as big businesses wage war against each other.  Companies are loading their war-chests with patent portfolios to block rivals from bringing to market innovative new products which leads to a product monoculture.   More perversely, patents are being used so sue users of technology rather than manufacturers.  Ultimately the consumer is the loser and patent lawyers and big business are the winners -  that's the price for patents protecting innovation.

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