U.S. Patents Up; Consumer Product Introductions Down

Feeling blue about the state of innovation? I have some news that could cheer you up—and some that might make you even bluer.

The upbeat news first: The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office just showed me preliminary data for fiscal 2009, and it shows that 93,725 patents were issued to U.S. residents. While that’s 49% of the total 190,121, it’s up from 91,843 a year earlier. The rise might continue next year. Americans filed 264,197 patent applications in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the office’s preliminary data. That’s 55% of the total, and up from 256,887 in fiscal 2008.

OK, now for the downbeat info. I also asked analysts at Mintel, a market-tracking outfit, for the latest numbers on product introductions. Mintel compiled data over the first three quarters for these categories: food, beauty & personal care, drink, household, health care, and pet. For the 2009 period, the total plunged 23%, to 28,473, from 2008’s first three quarters, when 37,203 new products came out. Down most: drink (-41%) and food (-33%.) Only pet product introductions rose.

Granted, many new food and drink items aren’t really innovations—they’re simply line extensions. And consumers genuinely seem to be craving traditional products today. These old brands recall a less topsy-turvy time, plus they’re often cheaper. But one of these days, we’re going to be hungry again for something other than a casserole made with Velveeta.

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