The number of US patent documents published flattened out in 2015 after almost a decade of steady growth.
The chart below shows total patent documents published in the US, which includes both patents and applications. At 709,453 total documents published, 2015 established a new record, but exceeded 2014 by fewer than 2000 publications.
If we break up the same analysis by document type, we notice some interesting patenting trends:
The number of total documents is basically flat, and the number of issued utility patents (in light blue above) actually decreased for the first time in a decade. Design patents (in black), while a smaller percentage of the whole, increased by about 10%.
Top Law Firms of 2015
That’s a lot of patent prosecution. So who is doing all this work?
The chart below shows the top 20 patent law firms in 2015. The analysis only includes granted patents, since published applications have not contained the Agent/Attorney data field since 2011.
Another view shows attorney firms over time. 2016 is blank, because the analysis was run before the first patents were published in 2016.
Top Patent Owners
IBM was awarded more US patents than any other single patent assignee in 2015– well, sort of.
Samsung published patents under several entity names including Samsung Electronics, Samsung Display and Samsung SDI among others. There were a total of 20810 US patent documents published by a Samsung entity in 2015, and 9588 grants, which amounts to over 3000 more total granted patents than IBM had in 2015.
We broke out university innovation in a separate chart. University of California (system) was once again the largest patentee.
This one always baffles me. I don’t see how a single person could create and file more than one invention per business day. The 2015 leader, Shunpei Yamazaki from Semiconductor Energy Lab was a named inventor on 444 US patents in 2015. That’s almost two patents per business day!
Top Design Patent Classes
Every year, I like to break out patent design trends. I think it is a good measure of the products that we all enjoy today. I charted by primary US design class, then used some poetic license to summarize the class titles.
The top class includes designs for devices like audio headphones, mobile phones, speakers, televisions and most consumer electronic devices, so no wonder so much effort is put into protecting such designs.
Patent Transaction Analysis
The following chart shows patents that transacted in 2015. Patent transactions take place with civil contracts, and there is no requirement that they be registered with the USPTO unless the buyer wants to assert or further transact the patent. As a result, the registrations may be lagging. Nevertheless, there were almost 130,000 reassignments registered with the USPTO in 2015 so far, and the number will surely grow as additional transactions executed in 2015 are recorded with the USPTO.
There were some major “transactions” executed in 2015 including Globalfoundries acquiring 14,115 unique US patents and applications from IBM. HP Enterprise acquired 8199 from the former integrated HP, and Nokia Tech OY acquired 7242 unique US patent documents from Nokia Corp. Each of these represents a business reorganization.
Other transactions were identified where companies are shoring up technology from many sources such as Xylon LLC acquiring patents from over 100 different sources in 2015.
In the US, patents must be maintained three times during their lifecycle. Payments are due at years 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 after the patent’s grant date. In each renewal tranche, the maintenance fees about double. For this reason, many patents are abandoned when maintenance payments are due.
In 2015, 21.79% of all patents that came up for renewal were abandoned, which is the highest abandonment rate yet.
The investment required to maintain patents is fairly substantial, costing as much as $7400 in the third (E3) renewal tranche for a large entity. The chart below shows how much revenue the USPTO stands to earn for patent maintenance fees over the next few years assuming 100% maintenance. If you assume about a 22% abandonment rate, the USPTO will still earn about 1.25 billion in 2016 for patent maintenance fees.
Following is a list of patents that stood out in some way. These are always fun!
Patent US9053485 Security monitoring system with image comparison of monitored location, had more claims than any other patent granted in 2015.
Patent US8957203, “Hepatitis C virus inhibitors,” from Bristol Myers Squibb Co, describes a chemical compound containing 286,267 letters (including spaces). Claim 1 is the longest claim of 2015, and requires 67 pages of single-spaced 12-point text in a Word document.
More Than 40 Years Pendency
Patent US8947977 for “Fusing arrangements” was filed in 1974 and granted on February 2, 2015. The patent is for a system of arming a warhead and the prevention of premature detonation–surely under a security arrangement. Interestingly, since this patent was filed prior to the 1995 TRIPS agreement, the patent still enjoys 17 years from grant date. It will expire in 2032, a whopping 58 years after it was filed.
555 Family Members
Patent US9066081 “Video encoding/ decoding method and apparatus for motion compensation prediction” from Toshiba Corp has 555 members in its simple family. Interestingly it was the only, and maybe last, member granted in the family claiming a 2002 priority date.
Design Patent USD722608 “Display screen with graphical user interface” from Microsoft has been cited 47 times since it was published in February 2015. This patent covers the design of the tiled interface used on Window phones.
Patent US8952217 is a mouthful. With 787,824 words, it is the longest patent granted in 2015. The PDF contains over 81MB of data, and has 1342 columns. If you read the patent, (and I suggest you do instead of that two-week vacation you’ve been planning), you’ll also notice that “lengthy tables” are only included by reference. In reality the patent is even longer!
Patent US9081501 “Multi-petascale highly efficient parallel supercomputer” from IBM was to say the least, a group effort. 61 unique inventors, mostly from Yorktown Heights, NY, got together and came up with this one. They get the AcclaimIP “Collaboration and Partnership” award for 2015!
What About the Rest of the World’s Patents?
I’ll do a similar analysis on global patents in about a month. With some foreign documents, there is a publication delay due to the translation step after publication. I will tell you this however; based on the data I already have, China will surpass the US in both numbers of granted patents and published applications for the first time in 2015.