Invention, Knowledge Transfer, and Innovation
Creativity and scientific discovery produce broad economic and social benefits through an interrelated system of invention, knowledge transfer, and innovation. Government, businesses, universities and nonprofits, and individuals all play an important role in these activities. Internationally, both the developed and the developing world are key actors in this system.
Invention is the development of a new process or product that is potentially useful, previously unknown, and nonobvious. Patent data reveal a subset of inventions that have been granted a property right in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. Patent awards are often used by inventors to protect their intellectual property. According to data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the number of U.S. patents granted to both U.S. and international inventors in recent years rose to slightly more than 300,000 in 2016. Inventors from around the globe increasingly seek patent protection in the United States. Over the past decade, U.S. inventors annually received about half of all U.S. granted patents; inventors in Japan and the EU received most of the rest. However, a growing number of inventors in South Korea have received U.S. patents, while U.S. patents granted to inventors in China and India remain modest despite growing rapidly from small bases.
U.S. knowledge- and technology-intensive industries receive most USPTO patents granted to U.S. industries. U.S. high-technology manufacturing industries received slightly more than 60% of the 61,000 U.S. patents granted to manufacturing industries in 2015; medium-high-technology manufacturing industries accounted for almost a quarter. Commercial knowledge-intensive services received 87% of the 30,000 patents granted to nonmanufacturing industries in 2015.
Although patenting by academic inventors is increasing, it is still relatively limited with only about 6,600 U.S. patents granted in 2016. Five technology areas receive over one-half of the U.S. patents granted to U.S. academic institutions—pharmaceuticals (15%), biotechnology (14%), medical technology (11%), organic chemistry (7%), and measurement (7%).
U.S. patents granted, by selected country, region, or economy of inventor: 2006–16
|Year||United States||European Union||Japan||South Korea||Taiwan||China||India|
Indicators 2018: Global Patent Trends and Cross-National Comparisons, Chapter 8.
U.S. academic patents, by selected technology area: 5-year averages, 2002–16
Indicators 2018: Trends and Patterns in Academic Patenting, Chapter 8.
Knowledge transfer is the process by which technology or knowledge developed in one place or for one purpose is applied elsewhere for a similar or different purpose. This transfer can take place freely, through knowledge sharing, as well as through exchange, for example by licensing or consulting. Citations from patents to S&E articles are one measure of knowledge transfer from research to patented inventions. These citations are overwhelmingly to articles from academic institutions, accounting for over 60% of citations across all S&E research fields. This dominance is not surprising, given the important role of academic institutions in producing peer-reviewed research. For patent citations to literature from nonacademic institutions, industry publications contribute the most to patenting in computer sciences (27%), physics (23%), and engineering (21%).
Federal agencies transfer technology through a variety of channels. Most measures of federal technology transfer track the number of activities, such as inventions disclosed, patent applications filed, and patents issued. Three federal agencies lead technology transfers—the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Federal government research publications also measure federal technology transfer and accounted for 7% of total U.S. S&E articles in 2016.
Citation to U.S. S&E articles in U.S. patents, by selected S&E field and sector of author: 2016
FFRDCs = federally funded research and development centers.
Indicators 2018: Citations of S&E Articles and USPTO Patents, Chapter 8.
Federal technology transfer activity indicators for U.S. agencies with federal laboratories: FYs 2001–14
|Year||Patents issued||Patent applications filed||Inventions disclosed|
Indicators 2018: Knowledge Transfer Activities by Federal R&D Facilities, Chapter 8.
Businesses implement innovation through the introduction of new or significantly improved products and processes. Product innovations can include goods or services. Among U.S. companies, 17% report introducing a new or significantly improved product or process between 2013 and 2015.
Manufacturing firms reported higher rates of product and process innovations than did nonmanufacturing firms during that period (33% versus 15%). The lead innovators among manufacturing industries are computer and electronic products (57%) and electrical equipment and components (48%).
Nonmanufacturing companies report the highest rates of innovation among computer system and design services (44%), scientific R&D services (44%), electronic shopping and auctions (40%), and information (31%).
U.S. manufacturing companies reporting product or process innovation, by selected industry: 2013–15
|Industry||Share of U.S. manufacturing companies|
|All manufacturing industries||33.1|
|Plastics and rubber products||38.2|
|Petroleum and coal products||38.4|
|Electrical equipments and components||47.7|
|Computer and electronic products||56.7|
U.S. nonmanufacturing companies reporting product or process innovation, by selected industry: 2013–15
|Industry||Share of U.S. nonmanufacturing companies|
|All nonmanufacturing industries||15.4|
|Transportation and warehousing||15.6|
|Health care services||16.5|
|Architectural and engineering||21.4|
|Electronic shopping and auctions||39.5|
|Scientific R&D services||43.7|
|Computer systems design services||44.0|