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News Release 99-016

U.S. Inventors "Patently" Productive--At Home, and Around the World

March 15, 1999

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

When it comes to earning patents, United States inventors are among the world's most active and successful--both in the U.S. and abroad.

A new Issue Brief from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS), "U.S. Inventors Patent Technologies Around the World," says U.S. inventors led all other foreign inventors in the number of patents granted in five of the 11 other nations studied. By a wide margin, they also led all countries in the number of patents awarded in the United States.

"Sometimes, with the widespread availability of foreign products in the U.S. market, we lose sight of just how much products created by U.S. inventors are in demand all around the world," said Issue Brief author Lawrence Rausch.

However, the "1999 Innovation Index" of the Council on Competitiveness--which is comprised of corporate CEOs and the research and development directors of United States corporations and universities--warned recently that the U.S.' status as the world's preeminent innovator nation is in jeopardy unless changes are made in national policy and investment choices.

In 1994, U.S. inventors received: more than half of all foreign-origin patents issued in Canada and Mexico; 50 percent of those granted in Japan; 43 percent in India; 42 percent in Brazil; 28 percent in Germany and about 25 percent each in France, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

German inventors led all foreign inventors in France, Italy, and Russia. Japanese inventors edged out Americans in Germany and the United Kingdom, captured nearly half the foreign market in the U.S., and dominated foreign patenting in South Korea.

Foreign inventors received 45 percent of U.S. patents awarded. Only Russia (19 percent) and Japan (13 percent) had lower percentages of patents awarded to foreign inventors, while South Korea, at 48 percent, had about the same percentage.

Francis Narin, president of CHI Research, Inc., and an expert observer of patents and other technology indicators, said, "The low percentage of patents Russia and Japan issued to foreign inventors is the neatest example of the insular nature of their patent systems. Our market is one of the most open in the world; we are both an importer and exporter of technology."

While patent data are not always complete or consistent in quality and across industries and fields, Rausch noted, they are a uniquely useful source of information on national inventive activities. These activities are economically significant, because innovations frequently lead to new or improved products or manufacturing processes, or even new industries.

Corporations hold the vast majority of patents issued to foreign inventors, typically for products that have been sold or used in the inventor's home market, Rausch said. Since it is often much more difficult and expensive to gain patent protection in foreign countries, the product or process being patented must have a perceived high market demand and/or give the corporation a competitive business advantage.

"The large share of patents that the U.S. has in open parts of the world is a good example of the power of our technology," Narin said. "It implies that we're strong, and it goes hand-in-hand with our being viewed as a first-class technology-producing nation."

In their Chairmen's Foreword to the "1999 Innovation Index," William R. Hambrecht of W.R. Hambrecht & Co., William C. Steere, Jr. of Pfizer Inc. and William R. Brody of Johns Hopkins University wrote, "Although the past decade has been one of the strongest periods of U.S. macroeconomic growth since World War II, total spending on basic research is flat or heading downward, and the declining numbers of degrees granted in the physical sciences and engineering offer little hope of reversing this trend.

"These observations suggest that America's current innovation leadership is more and more rooted in past investment, and that the long run basis for our future strength is being eroded--all while other nations are accelerating their own efforts," they concluded.


Editors: Francis Narin, cited above as an expert, is President of CHI Research, Inc., a highly specialized citation research consulting firm. Mr. Narin is available for comment at 609-546-0600; or at

Media Contacts
Joel Blumenthal, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Lawrence M. Rausch, NSF, (703) 292-8774, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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