U.S. Slips to Second in Patents

Guess which government agency received the most U.S. patents through the year’s midpoint. If you had answered the U.S. Navy, you would have been right in 2008. But in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the winner in terms of both the value of its patents and sheer volume wasn’t even an American entity. It was South Korea’s Electronics & Telecommunications Research Institute.

Yep, according to a just-published report from the Patent Board, an intellectual property consultancy, the South Korean institute’s patents were the most valuable of all thanks to its high-tech patents. Its overall score: 212 vs. 135 for the second place U.S. Navy. The institute also was granted 286 patents over the 12-month period to the Navy’s 236.

The South Korean agency ranked third five years ago and second the past three years, behind the Navy.

There’s more comeuppance for We’re No. 1 chanters in the U.S. Five of the top 10 government grantees of U.S. patents in FY 2009 were not American, in terms of patent value. (Value is a combination of such factors as the number of times a patent is cited by others in their patent applications or in scientific journals.)

Here’s the ranking:

1. South Korea Electronics & Telecommunications Research Institute 2. U.S. Navy 3. U.S. Energy Dept. 4. U.S. Army 5. U.S. National Aeronautic & Space Administration 6. Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology 7. U.S. Health & Human Services Dept. 8. Singapore Agency for Science Technology & Research 9. Japan Ministry of Economic Trade & Industry 10. France National Center of Scientific Research

“E&TRI appears to pursue innovation aggressively during downturns. We would recommend that for all our clients,” Patent Board President Scott Oldach tells me.

This isn't the first indication of South Korea's patent prowess. It finished No. 1 in patents on a per capita basis, according to a recent United Nations report. The U.S. was third, with Japan in second on that list.

Tammy D'Amato, a Patent Board senior analyst who wrote this new report for Intellectual Property Today, notes that governments generally don't patent heavily. Altogether, their patents come to less than 1% of the total granted in any year. And, of course, patents are only one measure of a nation's inventiveness. But does that reassure you?

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