The Zen of Counting Patents
FedInvent Reports and the Taxpayer Funded Patent Count for 2021 and the First Half of 2022
Hello from FedInvent,
In this newsletter, we look at the count of taxpayer-funded patents and published patent applications for 2021 and how things are shaping up for the first half of 2022.
But first, the links to the latest FedInvent Reports.
Counting Taxpayer Funded Patents
The FedInvent Project started with a simple question. How many US patents have taxpayer funding? Our mission is to find all of them.
Federal departments and agencies publish plenty of reports on the intellectual property performance of their departments. However, creating a consolidated list of all taxpayer-funded patents and patent applications is challenging. Finding and tabulating all the patents with inventors who received taxpayer funding and the funding sources using these reports isn't accurate.
FedInvent decided to take a different approach. Instead of reading agency funding reports to figure out how many patents result from an agency's taxpayer funding of R&D, Fedinvent finds the patent first and then maps them back to the federal entities that provided the funding. Here's how the numbers turned out.
FedInvent Patent Count for 2021
In 2021, FedInvent identified 7,722 patents that benefitted from taxpayer funding. There were just over 9,200 published pre-grant patent applications for 2021.
Once we started assembling all of these patents, it became clear that the number of taxpayer-funded patents was significant. Our next question was, how does this portfolio of patents measure up with other US patent portfolios? If patents citing taxpayer funding were treated as if they came from one entity, how this portfolio would stack up against the largest recipients of US patents globally. What was the baseline number for measuring federal intellectual property performance?
The Patent Performance GOAT
Every year the patent world publishes lists of the top recipients of U. S. patents. This metric is used as both a badge of honor and a measure of innovation and intellectual property prowess. So, where would the US government appear on the annual list?
Who is the greatest US patent recipient of all time, the GOAT? International Business Machines (IBM). IBM has ranked number one on the list of US patent recipients for the last 29 years. Where would the US government appear on the annual list?
(USPTO hasn’t published their 2021 list yet.)
But like everything about counting patents, it's not simple. We looked at more than one list of top patent recipients.
According to IFI Claims, a purveyor of patent data, IBM received 8,686 US patents in 2021. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd holds the number two position with 6,366. Canon, the number three recipient, received 3,021 patents. The Patent 300 developed by Harrity Patent Analytics compiles its own top 300 entities based on the number of US utility patents issued each year. The Patent 300 top three are — IBM, 8,540; Samsung, 8,517; and LG took third place with 4,388 patents. While the Samsung count on the Patent 3oo number seems high, taxpayer-funded patents would only move down one spot to third place on the list. (Counting patents is an art, not a science.)
IBM received 138 patents that cited funding from the federal government. Removing those patents from the IBM count would change their total to 8,548 on the IFI Claims list and 8,402 on the Patent 300. Not enough to bump IBM off the top of the leaderboard.
(Unfortunately, there is no comparable data on year-over-year patent application counts.)
2022 Is Shaping Up Nicely
The total taxpayer-funded patent count from January 1 through June 28, 2022, the last Tuesday in the year's first half, is 3,477. The patent application count through June 30, 2022, is 4,421. These patents account for 2% of all US patents and published patent applications.
The funding count adds another dimension. The numbers above are the raw count of patents with taxpayer funding. These patents contain 3,985 individual funding citations on the 3,477 patents. There are 5,093 individual funding citations on the 4,421 pre-grant published patent applications.
The 97% Rules on R&D Funding
According to the Congressional Research Service, there are two 97% rules of federal funding of R&D.
Eight federal agencies, The Big Eight, receive 97% of total R&D funding,
The National Institutes of Health receive 97% of the Department of Health and Human Services R&D funding.
These are interesting metrics to keep in mind when exploring the federal innovation ecosphere. Who got the money, and who is getting the patents.
The Big Eight So Far
Here is how the Big Eight federal R&D agencies did in 2022 so far.
The DOD numbers are low because most of the Bayh-Dole scofflaws are defense contractors.
Of the 1,350 patents with funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, 1278 had funding from one or more of the institutes or offices at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At the half-year mark, NIH represents 95% of HHS's new patents.
The NIH results are undercounted. When patents are assigned to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because they result from intramural R&D by NIH employees, there is no definitive indication of which institute(s) should receive credit for the patent. NIH publishes a patent list on eReporter, but it's not something we can use each week. We use the inventors' institute affiliation to get a feel for where the patents and applications are coming from each week. But this isn't definitive confirmation on which institute should get credit for the patent.
(NIH RePORTER is an electronic tool that allows users to search a database of NIH-funded research projects and access publications and patents resulting from NIH funding.)
Patents by Technology Center for 2022 Through June
The patents not shown here are design patents, a plant patent, and reissue patents.
FedInvent Tabulates Patents By Funding Citation
The inventors cite their funding sources in government interest statements. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell from their citations which source was the most important, so we add the patent to the tabulation for each department that provided the inventors with R&D funding.
.Here are examples of the challenge of counting patents and why we count citations.
Counting at the Department Level
Tabulating federally funded patents and patent applications it's not that simple. In the first half of 2022, 95 patents show funding from both HHS (NIH) and DOD. One patent, two departments.
One of the patents reflected a contract through the DOD Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and three separate grants from the National Institutes of Health. Therefore, 95 patents are in the department count for both DOD and HHS.
Counting at the Department and Agency Level
So far this year, 24 patents citing DARPA funding also received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Two of these DARPA/NSF-funded patents also show funding the inventors received from NIH. One patent, two departments, and one independent agency.
In this example, the government interest statement had enough information to link the funding to DARPA and the Navy Office of Naval Research. The NSF information wasn't specific enough to link the patent back to the specific directorate or division at NSF.
Counting at the Program Level
In some cases, there is enough information to track a patent back to the program. In the example below, the patent can be traced back to the Department of Energy (DOE) exascale computing program.
This patent is a DOE patent. FedInvent also adds this patent to the FFRDC count.
The exascale program is a collaboration between three FFRDCs. The program is sometimes referred to as CORAL — Collaboration of Oak Ridge National Lab, Argonne National Lab, and Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
Why We Do It This Way
The FedInvent report shows each patent with each department that provided money to the inventors. You wind up with patents appearing more than once in a FedInvent Report.
Funding information appears in both the Patent Count by Department panel of the FedInvent Report and on the details page which is organized by department. This approach enables our readers to browse by department. If you are a program manager from HHS, you can view everything that had HHS and NIH fund in one place. Program managers from DOD and DOE can do the same. People using the reports can see all the funding associated with a taxpayer-funded invention. You can spot collaborations. While this reporting approach results in the same patent appearing in the sections for different departments with a funding citation, FedInvent believes it provides a more comprehensive view into all the money that funded the R&D that yields new patents and patent applications.
Before We Go
You Can't Make This Stuff Up
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Air Force and the Space Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force.
The Air Force Research Lab at Wright Patterson, Air Force Base, has a sex worker and old boy's club problem. A top civilian scientist working for the Air Force allegedly convinced a colleague to hire a sex worker as an administrative technician involved in military propulsion research, according to a warrant unsealed Monday by the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The top scientist was Dr. James Gord, now deceased. Dr. Sukesh Roy hired the sex worker to work at the Air Force Research Lab at Dr. Gord's request.
Drs. Gord and Roy are two of the three inventors on US Patent 11177622 — "Nearly transform-limited, low-repetition-rate, picosecond optical parametric generator." If you haven't read any of the articles on the investigation, you can read one here. Yet another reason to rethink giving federal employees a federal credit card.
What's Happening At the Y
FedInvent has been keeping track of taxpayer-funded patents since the project started. Every week the patents and the applications with Y classifications indicating USPTO believes that the inventions are useful for mitigating the impact of climate change. Tuesdays average six patents with Y CPCs out of an average of 135 taxpayer-funded patents. Applications average only two publications with Y CPCs on Thursdays. On Thursdays, taxpayer-funded patent applications average 169 publications. On any given week, we find many more patents and applications that meet the classification requirements of the Y CPCs. Battery technology, anti-virals for vector-borne illnesses, and cement and concrete materials that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Then there's Loci Controls. Loci Controls, Inc. is a wireless sensor and actor network, device developer. Loci Controls develops hardware and software utilizing a wireless sensor network to optimize methane extraction from landfills through better landfill gas monitoring. Loci received grants from National Science Foundation. Their patents and their patent applications are all interrelated. (Very compelling technology.) Most of Loci Control's patents didn't have Y CPCs when they first appeared in the data. Now they do.
The Y CPCs that appear on the patents and applications when they are published are not a reliable indicator that an invention is beneficial in mitigating the impact of climate change. USPTO is reclassifying patents and applications after their original appearance in the weekly data. We are considering removing the Emerging Technology section of the FedInvent Report. It's just not accurate week to week. (Let us know your thoughts.)
We tried to get clarification on the rules of Y CPC classification. The USPTO's response was, "read the Y symbols definitions." (Not helpful.) Our guess here is that USPTO hasn't figured out who is responsible for adding these classifications — SERCO, their classification contractor, or the overworked patent examiners. If SERCO does it, it will cost money. If the examiners do it, it's free (kind of.) The USPTO Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program may force a change in the timeliness of the Y CPC classification. An accurate assignment of what does and doesn't qualify for a Y CPC now determines which patent applications move to the top of the examination docket.
The USPTO Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program's application count as of July 12, 2022, shows that 33 patent applications filed were filed to date. Of those, four were granted. The program will accept 1,000 applications. Get your applications in soon. As of today, there are still 996 slots left.
Thanks for reading FedInvent.
The FedInvent Team
FedInvent tells the stories of inventors, investigators, and innovators. Wayfinder Digital's FedInvent Project follows the federal innovation ecosphere, taxpayer money, and the inventions it pays for. FedInvent is a work in progress. Please reach out if you have questions or suggestions. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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