U.S. Patents Granted to Asian and EU Inventors
Patenting activity is widely viewed as an indicator of a country's innovative capacity, but differences in national patent law complicate using this indicator to assess foreign countries' relative capacity. This difficulty can be mitigated by examining other countries' patenting in the United States, whose open economy tends to attract cutting-edge technologies from around the world.
- Foreign inventors received about 81,100 U.S. patents in 2003, 48% of the total patents issued in the United States. Among foreign inventors, Asia, led by Japan's 35,500 patents, received 46,200; the EU countries received 26,700 (table 14; figure 33).
- From 1990 to 2003, the Asian share of U.S. patents rose from 23% to 27%, offsetting the EU decline from 20% to 16%. The U.S. share remained stable (table 14).
- Taiwan and South Korea have seen a particularly rapid increase in U.S. patents, moving them ahead of France and the United Kingdom. Along with Japan, they are among the leading sources of foreign inventions patented in the United States. In 2003, Taiwanese and South Korean inventors accounted for more than 25% of all foreign patents granted in the United States. China's patenting activity, while rising rapidly, remains relatively modest (figure 34).
- Patenting profiles of Asian economies show different portfolios of technological expertise. For example, Japanese inventors' patents in the United States focus on information processing, storage, and transmission; South Korean patents on television technologies and a broad array of computer technologies; and Taiwanese inventions on communications technologies, semiconductor manufacturing processes, and internal combustion engine technologies.
- Trends based on patent applications in the United States, a leading indicator of patents granted, are similar to those based on patent awards: Asian share gains from 1990 to 2003 offset European losses, while shares for U.S. and other inventors were stable. Within Asia, growth of Japan's U.S. patent applications slowed while those of other locations, notably Korea and Taiwan, rose.
Table 14 Source Data: Excel file
Figure 33 Source Data: Excel file
Figure 34 Source Data: Excel file
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Asia's High-Value Patents
The expense of filing for patents in three different major markets (Japan, Europe, and the U.S.) means that, for the most part, only inventions deemed to be economically valuable will be patented in all three. The distribution of these "triadic patents" by the inventor country can provide insight into the location of important technological competencies.
- Counts of Asian triadic patents by residence of inventor and year of first filing show Asia generally trailing both the United States and the EU (figure 35; table 15).
- Japan accounts for nearly all of Asia's triadic patent families, with more limited but increasing activity by South Korea (table 15).
- In 2003, inventors residing in Japan produced approximately 72% and 82% of the number of triadic patents produced by U.S.- and EU-based inventors, respectively. Given Japan's much smaller population, its inventive productivity on a per capita basis is well in excess of the per capita productivity of the United States or the EU.
Figure 35 Source Data: Excel file
Table 15 Source Data: Excel file
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 Data examined are trends in number of U.S. patents granted and include only corporate-owned utility patents (i.e., patents for inventions). Country of origin reflects the residence of the inventor.