2015 Was an Up and Down Year for Issued U.S. Patents and Patent Applications

We have seen a steady increase in the number of patents issued each year by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 2009. The statistics are in for calendar year 2015, and it appears that the growth trend is slowing. With a concerted effort by the USPTO to decrease patent pendency, some believed that we would see more patents issued in 2015, but that was not the case. Many see the issuance of U.S. Patents to U.S. businesses and universities as a quantitative indicator of American innovation, so we are analyzing the numbers from that perspective.

Issued Utility Patents: There was a slight drop in issued Utility Patents in 2015 to 299,383, down from the 301,643 Utility Patents that were issued in 2014, a decrease of less than 1%. Prior to that, we saw a steady increase in the issuance of U.S. Utility Patents going back to 2010.

In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued about 167,000 Utility Patents each of those three years. After three years of no significant increase, there was a significant jump in 2010 to 219,908 issued Utility Patents.

From 2010 through 2014, issuance of U.S. Utility Patents grew steadily to 224,876 in 2011, 253,631 in 2012, and 278,518 in 2013. The last year that there was a significant decrease in the issuance of Utility Patents was 2007 when 157,115 Utility Patents were issued, down from 2006 when 173,789 Utility Patents were issued.

Issued Design Patents: This category has been up and down. There were 26,000 U.S. Design Patents issued in 2015, up almost 10% from the 23,666 Design Patents issued in 2014. However, with 23,478 Design Patent issued in 2013, 2014 was virtually flat. There was an increase of almost 7% in Design Patents issued in 2013 from the 21,959 Design Patents issued in 2012. With 21,361 Design Patents issued in 2011, Design Patents issuances were essentially flat going into 2012.

Ten-Year Trend: If we smooth out the annual ups and downs, there has clearly been growth in the issuance of U.S. Patents over the last ten years. There were 173,789 U.S. Utility Patents issued in 2006, so the 299,383 Utility Patents issued in 2015 represent a 72% ten-year increase! There were 20,966 Design Patents issued in 2006, so the 26,000 U.S. Design Patents issued in 2015 represents an increase of 24%.

Patent Applications: Another metric of American innovation is the number of patent applications filed each year. While the number of issued Utility and Design Patents goes up and down, Patent Applications have grown steadily. There were 381,866 applications filed in 2015, up from the 379,824 filed in 2014. And 2014 saw an increase from the 346,646 Patent Applications filed in 2013. Over the last ten years, Patent Application filings have increased from 294,165 in 2006 to 381,866 in 2015, an increase of almost 30%! The fact that 30% more applications were filed, but issued Utility Patents grew by 72% over the same ten-year period may indicate that better applications are being filed.

Top Patent Assignees: While many American icons are on the list of the top recipients of U.S. Patents, many foreign businesses are also on the list. IBM has been the leader for the past several years, but it was bumped out of that spot by Samsung* that was issued a whopping 8,119 U.S. Patents in 2015! IBM was second with 6,444. Next was Japan-based Canon at 4,202, followed by Google at 3,356. Qualcomm came in fifth with 2,997 U.S. Patents, and Microsoft was sixth with 2,729 issued patents. Korea-based LG was close behind Microsoft, receiving 2,717 U.S. patents, and Japan-based Toshiba was just as close receiving 2,701 patents. The ninth spot went to Sony with 2,475 U.S. Patents, and Intel finished tenth with 2,326 patents issued to it in 2015.

Of the top ten recipients of U.S. Utility Patents in 2015, six are U.S. companies, two are Korean, and two are Japanese.

Top Patent Applicants: Not surprisingly, the ranking of U.S. Patent Applications pretty closely follows the list of patent recipients. Samsung* filed 9,771 U.S. Patent Applications in 2015, while second-place IBM filed 6,794. Canon was third with 4,186, Toshiba was fourth with 3,319, and Qualcomm was fifth with 3,202. Google was sixth with 2,985 Patent Applications filed in 2015, followed by Intel with 2,977, LG with 2,736, Taiwan Semiconductor with 2,695, and Sony finishing tenth with 2,596. Among the top applicants for U.S. Patents, only four are U.S. businesses. Three are Japanese, two are Korean, and one is Taiwan-based.

Top University Patentees: Significant basic research is performed by universities. The top ten university recipients of U.S. Patents in 2015 are the University of California, MIT, Tsinghua University (China), the University of Texas, Stanford University, Johns-Hopkins, Washington University, Columbia University and KAIST (Korea Institute for Advanced Study). Of the top 50 university recipients of U.S. Patents, 15 are foreign universities.

This chart shows issued U.S. Utility Patents, issued U.S. Design Patents, and U.S. Patent Applications for the last ten years.

Year Issued U.S. Utility Patents Issued U.S. Design Patents Issued U.S. Applications
2006 173,789 20,966 294,165
2007 157,115 24,069 299,768
2008 157,939 25,574 320,224
2009 167,554 23,125 327,921
2010 219,908 22,805 332,966
2011 224,876 21,361 320,905
2012 253,631 21,959 331,239
2013 278,518 23,478 346,646
2014 301,643 23,666 379,824
2015 299,383 26,000 381,886

This chart shows issued U.S. Patents and Patent Applications filed in 2015.

Applicant Issued U.S. Patents Issued U.S. Applications
Samsung* 8,119 9,771
IBM 6,444 6,794
Canon 4,202 4,186
Google 3,356 2,985
Qualcomm 2,997 3,202
Microsoft 2,729 2,315
LG Electronics 2,717 2,736
Toshiba 2,701 3,319
Sony 2,475 2,596
Intel 2,326 2,977
Apple 2,234 2,097
Toyota 1,836 2,367
General Electric 1,823 2,159
Taiwan Semiconductor 1,762 2,695
Global Foundries 1,696 1,813
Seiko-Epson 1,639 1,980
Fujitsu 1,493 1,920
Ford 1,205 1,804

* Samsung was issued patents and filed for patent applications under both Samsung Electronics and Samsung Display, so we combined the two under “Samsung.”