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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, January 2024
WEB Exclusive story

Looking for Innovation Locations? Take a Dive Into the Patent Data.



Panorama of Downtown Skyline

Japan’s total number of USPTO patents in 2020 was more than double the total from No. 2 China.

Photo © Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau

Necessity may be the mother of invention. To lure and cultivate corporate investment, a territory’s knack for invention and innovation is a competitive necessity.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the place to turn for the data, although it’s easy, as with any giant database, to make a few wrong turns in the process. The Office has been modernizing its data and search capabilities. Last April the agency began issuing electronic patent grants (eGrants), enabling patent owners and the public to view and print issued patents immediately upon issuance. “Since the transition, we have issued over 200,000 eGrants,” the USPTO said last month.

The agency also has unveiled its Patent Public Search tool, a new web-based patent search application that it says will replace internal legacy search tools. You can even choose whether you want to use “Basic Search” or “Advanced Search.”

For the amateur data scientist, even those tools can be intimidating at times, as mysterious acronyms and codes accumulate. So I put a simple question to USPTO staff: How do I find the latest data and historical data on patents by location?



As USPTO Deputy Press Secretary Mandy Kraft wrote to me after she poked around, there are a few resources to go to, even if it would still “require some work on your end.” For those inclined to evaluate a location’s inherent potential for innovation as a site selection factor, the work is worth it. The work also may provide not only a statistical dimension to a location search, but direct connections to a region’s under-the-radar intellectual property domains.

The first place to turn is the Patent Technology Monitoring Team, whose array of reports about patent activity includes a host of report breakouts by geographic origin. The most recent report by state looks at calendar year 2020, when 183,147 patents were issued within the United States. Patent origin is determined by the residence of the first-named inventor. The USPTO presents the states in alphabetical order, so a simple sort produces these leading states and their number of patents:

State No. of 2020 Patents
California 50,496
Texas 13,192
New York 10,540
Washington 9,112
Massachusetts 8,790
Michigan 7,478
Illinois 6,175
Florida 5,513
Ohio 5,386
New Jersey 5,027

You can also find there the numbers of 2020 USPTO patent grants by foreign country. The rest of the world’s USPTO patents in 2020 totaled 205,714, including big numbers from the top locations. Among them is No. 2 China, while the per-capita leader by far is No. 10 Israel, long known for the innovation mindset across its population of 9.3 million:

Country No. of 2020 Patents
Japan 53,779
People’s Republic of China 26,845
South Korea 23,705
Germany 19,173
Taiwan 13,105
United Kingdom 8,470
Canada 7,914
France 7,614
India 5,984
Israel 4,844

Dig around a bit more and you can find counts for utility patents (also known as “patents for inventions”) broken out by U.S. metro area, although the most recent data is from 2015. A separate area of data breaks out utility patents by micropolitan areas. Below are the cumulative leaders in both categories for the more than 1.5 million utility patents issued during the 16 years from 2000 through 2015. (Watch for Site Selection’s Top Metros and Top Micropolitans by corporate facility investments in the March 2024 issue of Site Selection to see where there is overlap.)

A fun game to play among the micropolitans especially: Can you name the anchor employers or clusters whose patent activity drives each town’s total?

Metro Region Total Utility Patents
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 143,473
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 92,577
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 89,981
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 74,381
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 62,653
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 46,991
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 45,465
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 44,406
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 41,696
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 37,342
Micropolitan Region Total Utility Patents
Corning, NY 1,764
Midland, MI 1,700
Torrington, CT 1,516
Duncan, OK 1,274
Warsaw, IN 1,151
Lebanon, NH-VT 1,062
Concord, NH 871
Bartlesville, OK 844
Los Alamos, NM 695
Truckee-Grass Valley, CA 588

Another comprehensive resource for patent data by location is PatentsView, a project launched in 2012 by a team comprising the USPTO; American Institutes for Research (AIR); University of Massachusetts Amherst; New York University; University of California, Berkeley; Twin Arch Technologies and Periscopic. In addition to analysis by location, the site also features tools to examine relationships to the world’s most influential patents and their companies and countries of origin.

Among the most influential? Japan’s Canon Inc., which just this week announced it ranked fifth for the number of U.S. patents awarded in 2023. The maker of printing, imaging, medical and industrial equipment said it is the only company in the world to have ranked in the top five for 38 years running, according to the latest ranking of preliminary patent results issued by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. — Adam Bruns

Between 2000 and 2015, the San Jose metro area was No. 1 in utility patents by a healthy margin of more than 50,000 over No. 2 New York.

Photo of San Jose’s SubZERO Festival courtesy of Visit San Jose




Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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