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Half of US Patents Issued Out of US For Second Year 90

Posted by kdawson
from the foreign-affairs dept.
netbuzz writes "According to a new report from IFI Patent Intelligence, 51% of patents issued by the United States in 2009 went to companies located overseas. While this marks the second consecutive year that a majority of US patents have landed abroad, an author of the report says: 'It's foolhardy to use this statistic to infer that American firms are losing ground to foreign competitors because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity.' IBM was once again granted the most patents of any company, 4,914, followed by Samsung and Microsoft."
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Half of US Patents Issued Out of US For Second Year

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  • Imaginary Property (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SloWave (52801) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:50AM (#30747204) Journal

    Kind of goes along with the huge valuation given to IP assets for US companies compared to their real assets.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Spatial (1235392)
      On a tangent:

      'Imaginary property' is strange derogatory term. The implication is that intellectual property is in some way less valid as a concept than physical property. Yet, it also seems to allude to their similarity.

      The notion of property is imaginary itself, after all. My possessions have no physical quantity that affords me ownership over them. It's a mental state and social construct, made manifest only by our collective behaviour - the same as intellectual property.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by apoc.famine (621563)

        What the hell are you talking about? I have a mug of coffee in front of me. It is mine. It has a couple of unique physical qualities that make it "property":

        a) I can put my hands on it, and fight anyone who tries to take it.
        b) It can't be duplicated easily.

        Imaginary property has neither of those qualities. There is no physical thing to hold on. It's either in your mind, or it's in the world. Once an *idea* gets out, it's nearly effortless to reproduce it, copy it, and spread it around.

        • by Spatial (1235392)

          What the hell are you talking about? I have a mug of coffee in front of me.

          Well I didn't. Thus you must suffer my early-morning navel-gazing. :)

          In fact, I agree with you. The practical implications are obviously way different for both.

  • Coincidence? (Score:4, Informative)

    by magsol (1406749) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:54AM (#30747228) Homepage Journal
    Hard to beat out IBM when it's submitting applications for LOL [slashdot.org], regex for SSN verification [slashdot.org], changing the color of email text [slashdot.org], and 40 minute meetings [slashdot.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Hey, the LOL translator is useful! You haven't worked at IBM, have you? You'll get messages and emails about integrating your project with WCTME (Workplace Client Technologies Micro Edition) and WSBE and WBESEP and WSMQE and WIRTS and WSDSEACS and ... I mean, with names like these... [ibm.com]

      That's IBM, through and through. They finally come up with a good short pronouncable brand name like "WebSphere" and proceed to adorn it with products like "WebSphere ILOG Rule Solutions for Office" and "WebSphere Development

    • Re:Coincidence? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Draek (916851) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:09AM (#30747676)

      If you think patents from other companies aren't as trivial as those, you haven't looked hard enough. Or read Slashdot for long.

      • by Alomex (148003)

        If you think traditional hardware patents cannot be as trivial as those, you are in for a surprise. The biggest problem on software patents is not so much their triviality, but their generality. A trivial hardware patent protects a very specific instantiation of the invention, software patents protect all such instantiations in any language, with any algorithm regardless of efficiency. Think one-click buy patent.

    • Hard to beat out IBM when it's submitting applications for LOL [slashdot.org], regex for SSN verification [slashdot.org], changing the color of email text [slashdot.org], and 40 minute meetings [slashdot.org].

      You know how I know you didn't actually read any of those patents, just the inaccurate Slashdot summaries?

  • US != 50% of world (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Psaakyrn (838406) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @12:58AM (#30747250)

    Isn't there more overseas companies than US companies? And if so, why should this be surprising in the slightest?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jwinster (1620555)
      What is their criteria for calling a company a US company now anyway? Most of the companies that obsessively file patents these days are so multinational (outside of the defense industry) that national borders are kind of a moot point.
    • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:25AM (#30747718)
      What you're ignoring is the trend - the majority of US patents being for foreign companies is a new thing. It indicates US economic dominance is in decline. Now, you can argue that's the natural state of things and it should always have been so, but regardless, it means we'll be paying more for scarce natural resources (think OIL), making less money (e.g. UAW went down the toilet), and we can't impose our will on other countries as much politically.
      • by tsalmark (1265778)
        the US is what, one country, the rest of the world is what 200 some odd more countries. One of the funny things about patents is you can patent in your own country and hope that the other countries honor your patent laws, patent in every country, or just patent in the US, as all most all countries honor their patent laws. As more companies are interested in doing business outside their own country the need to patent in the US increases. I'm not sure that means the US is faltering in anyway.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Half-pint HAL (718102)

        What you're ignoring is the trend - the majority of US patents being for foreign companies is a new thing. It indicates US economic dominance is in decline.

        Does it? It may instead indicate that cross-border economic activity is on the increase. While this may (arguably) show a relative decrease in US dominance of the domestic trade, it doesn't preclude the possibility of an increase in the US dominance of global trade.

        HAL.

      • by langelgjm (860756)

        Not necessarily. The percentage of patents being granted to residents of a country doesn't tell the whole story. For example, Japan has an extremely high percentage [gwu.edu]... but recently, so has Armenia. [gwu.edu] You can't therefore conclude that both Japan and Armenia are economically dominant. What this percentage best shows you is the attractiveness of patenting a product in that domestic market. In that sense, to a certain degree the more foreigners who want to patent in the U.S., the more attractive our market is to

  • by gmuslera (3436)
    That means that of all the patentable things (invention, processes, even software) done in the world that ever want to be able to be comercialized in US, only half were done in the rest of the world?

    Think in Nexus One with multitouch only in the european models, or al the diplomacy behind US trying to push their patents in all the world (having or not something similar being patented there previously). That facing that all the world want to patent in US too is just reasonable, what is not is that only count
  • when is enough? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by muphin (842524)
    to register a patent in the USA is $1347, IBM has 4914 Patents, which equals $6,619,158 spent on patents.
    now thats just the USA, to get an international patent is about $10k+ (only including the most popular countries) so that would be $49,140,000 in international patent fees for about 10 years ...


    now my question is, is it worth is spending so much on a patent that wont generate enough money to cover the cost of the patent?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sopssa (1498795) *

      Well if they file for a patent, they obviously think its worth the cost. You can't always directly measure the return either, since you don't know if you holding the patent lowers competition.

      Also remember that because the system is like this, companies that aren't patent trolls still need to file for the patents if they want to defend their technology. Blame the system, not those who have to play by its rules.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      now my question is, is it worth is spending so much on a patent that wont generate enough money to cover the cost of the patent?

      The answer is theoretically "no" but of course it's impossible to accurately predict what will generate money in the future. As with so many things in the real world, there is no such thing as perfect future information.

    • by MrMr (219533)
      The price to register an international patent may be about 10k, but the cost of additional translations and legal fees can be ten times that.
      In practice maintaining a 20 year international patent will burn about $100k of your companies assets.
      Or so our CFO told us...
  • Surprise? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Znork (31774) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @01:09AM (#30747304)

    FTA:

    It's foolhardy to use this statistic to infer that American firms are losing ground to foreign competitors because with patents, it’s important to consider quality, as well as quantity

    Ah, except the patent office isn't exactly concerned with quality. A patent is a patent, regardless of quality, and granting more of them is in the interest of anyone in the system (as the actual cost of the economic burden it imposes isn't accounted for by the granters, legislators or recipients).

    While American companies continue to add patents, IFI Patent Intelligence says foreign firms are also working to win patents at a "frenetic pace," which could be considered a good thing for the U.S. economy overall.

    Right. As IPR is macro-economically equivalent to taxation, that's the same thing as saying 'more taxes are a good thing for the economy overall'. As a general rule, I don't actually think that's an accepted theory within any economic branch; even the most tax friendly theories usually prefer a somewhat efficient use of the taxation burden.

    "The silver lining may be that the high priority foreign firms place on U.S. patents is a confirmation of the value and importance that the U.S. market represents."

    The question is why wouldn't a foreign company be interested in obtaining taxation rights to the US economy? There's nothing as lucrative as having government enforced rights to take money without doing anything.

    Of course it utterly screws those paying for the system, but it certainly is nice for those who can skim the pot. Eventually it falls apart of course, as the burdens on industry and workers mean they simply cannot compete and when the ability to borrow to keep going is lost one ends up without industrial base, in deep debt and with significant legal risks to any industry trying to operate within the economy.

  • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @01:11AM (#30747322) Homepage Journal

    I can only speak for the domain of software development, but there was a period from 1996-2008 when the USA was disproportionately feeling the rewards of software patenting. The rewards were always severly outweighed by the costs ($11 billion in 2008 [swpat.org]), but there were always people pointing at these rewards.

    Now that the companies of the USA's economy will increasingly become the targets of software patents instead of the users, those rewards will diminishing.

    Patent policy for other domains can be considered while only looking at the economic effects. For software, the social effects have to be considered too because software development is something that individuals can do and participate in - like writing a book, reporting news, or writing music. So, it makes sense to have economic studies [swpat.org] to make our point, but we also have to remember to have other arguments [swpat.org] and to point out that these other issues exist.

    The good news is that there's the Bilski case [swpat.org] which might solve the problem, and there are also initiatives in other countries [swpat.org], most notably Israel [swpat.org], New_Zealand [swpat.org], the EU [swpat.org], Australia [swpat.org], and something starting in [swpat.org]. Help sought.

  • by dlgeek (1065796)
    This is hardly surprising. If you create a major, marketable invention, you're going to patent it pretty much everywhere. Since the US doesn't have a majority of the worlds population, thus it's not surprising that we have a large number of patents held by foreigners/foreign companies. I'm sure that there are patents held by US citizens/companies in tons of other countries as well. I'd be curious to see what these percentages are like in other countries, that might yield a more interesting system.
    • I actually calculated the percentage for about 150 countries using all available data from WIPO, and you do find some interesting patterns. What you've said is pretty much right... the U.S. has a strong patent system, and huge internal market, so it's no surprise foreigners want to patent their inventions here.

      GDP per capita plays a big role in this percentage, as does the total population of the country, and the strength of the patent system. I'm not going to upload all my images, but here are a few intere

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If other countries began to win with this rules, is time to change the rules.

  • by Interoperable (1651953) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @01:37AM (#30747498)

    ...it's [slashdot.org] important [slashdot.org] to [slashdot.org] consider [slashdot.org] quality [slashdot.org], as [slashdot.org] well [slashdot.org] as [slashdot.org] quantity [slashdot.org].

    To name a few.

  • by khallow (566160) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @01:56AM (#30747588)

    It's foolhardy to use this statistic to infer that American firms are losing ground to foreign competitors because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity

    If we do make that consideration, then it's probably worse. Keep in mind that a) we have a thriving patent troll industry in the US, and b) anyone outside the US who bothers to patent in the US probably is more likely to have something worth patenting.

    • What's the reason to assume that because a patent comes from a foreign company, it's less likely to be a troll? Patent trolling in the U.S. is clearly a proven means of making money so maybe the prevalence of foreign applications for U.S. patents simply means foreign trolls have figured out the U.S. is the best place to ply their trade.

      The quality/quantity argument is specious IMO because there is no objective measurement of patent quality. In fact I wonder how bad a patent application has to be in order

      • by khallow (566160)

        What's the reason to assume that because a patent comes from a foreign company, it's less likely to be a troll?

        There's a larger barrier to entry. If I as a US citizen want to play the game, I need a small legal staff and some patents. That's about it. A good portion of the work is just filing stuff on time so that the legal machinery keeps turning. Someone overseas would need to establish a local presence first. That's going to vastly cut down the field of contenders. Since there's more work for a foreign firm to issue US patents, my view is that they'll be a bit less likely to bother with patents that are more or l

  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:28AM (#30747734)

    because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity

    Erm, doesn't the law say those of low quality shouldn't even issue? http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/usc_sec_35_00000103----000-.html [cornell.edu]

    • because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity

      Erm, doesn't the law say those of low quality shouldn't even issue? http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/usc_sec_35_00000103----000-.html [cornell.edu]

      Define "quality", please. You linked to 35 USC 103, so you may interpret low quality as "obvious", but not all would agree. Many would define low quality as lacking much utility, or low quality as lacking sufficient written description. In fact, I can think of many low quality patents that are not obvious. Your definition seems to be much narrower than anyone else would reasonably use.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @02:28AM (#30747738) Homepage
    It's not over for the US, or at least, it does not have to be. We've gone through hard time before and gotten out of them. In the 1970's, 1980's and other occasions the US was said to be done and someone else was taking over (the Soviet Union, Japan etc). The US can reinvent itself and get momentum going in the right direction, but we need to do it now and stop with the destructive behavior. The longer we wait the worse it gets.

    The reason is simple: We need to stop letting the government make life difficult for American buisiness. The government already destroyed the credit market by subsidizing high risk loans and now we're facing a huge debt problem, not personal debt but government debt. Regulations have become crippling. It's choking American enterprise.

    I've personally always wanted to be in buisiness for myself, but recently it's become all but impossible due to the taxes, regulations and so on. You know what it takes to hire a single employee? Payroll tax, record keeping regulations, insurance, OSHA compliance, registration, W-40, workers comp insurance. I can't do it! It's gotten so bad no matter how bad I want to expand, I can't do it. The current administration has made it so much worse.

    What does this have to do with patents? Everything. The current economic outlook and avaliable funding and ability to take an idea and run with it just isn't what it used to be. It's not because China or Europe or anyone is doing anything great, it's because we keep shooting our-self in the foot and then when things get worse, we do the polar opposite of what would help!
    • by XDirtypunkX (1290358) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @03:10AM (#30747884)

      The reason is simple: We need to stop letting the government make life difficult for American buisiness. The government already destroyed the credit market by subsidizing high risk loans and now we're facing a huge debt problem, not personal debt but government debt. Regulations have become crippling. It's choking American enterprise.

      The large percentage of the sub prime loans weren't subsidized. Simple regulations/requirements on loan prudence, capital reserves and transparency for financial instruments like the infamous CDS would've saved the economy far more than changing subsidies. In fact, countries with more tightly regulated financial systems (such as Australia) did much better in the recent crisis than those that didn't.

      Sure, the government is at fault (as are the businesses themselves for making imprudent investments), but blaming over-regulation and too much government interaction is just an ideological kneejerk. Sometimes regulations are good, sometimes they're bad but the important thing is you get them right instead of focusing on some narrow ideology.

      I've personally always wanted to be in buisiness for myself, but recently it's become all but impossible due to the taxes, regulations and so on. You know what it takes to hire a single employee? Payroll tax, record keeping regulations, insurance, OSHA compliance, registration, W-40, workers comp insurance. I can't do it! It's gotten so bad no matter how bad I want to expand, I can't do it. The current administration has made it so much worse.

      Half of the things you mentioned are there for your benefit, in particular when you get sued (just see what happens if you don't have insurance and you haven't kept proper records) or need to take a trip to the accountant. The other half are for the employee's benefit, in that they should be able to work for you without risking serious injury or at least being fairly compensated if they do. Really, it sounds awfully like you want a free ride here; employees are an investment, you have to pay money to make money. They may not be instantly profitable, but if you can't afford to pay for them, it's your business model that's wrong, not the government. As a business owner myself, you have to realize that the benefits of having a business come with a whole bunch of responsibility and risk.

    • by Renraku (518261)

      What the government does to companies is makes it harder for them to compete with each other and harder for them to compete with countries outside of the United States. It also allows them to fuck consumers hard and fast. If we stop letting them fuck consumers, it will cost them money. If we make it to where they can compete, it will cost them money. If we make them more able to compete, it'll give them some money, but we'll be drinking concentrated sulfuric acid out of our drinking wells.

      So what can we

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I've personally always wanted to be in buisiness for myself, but recently it's become all but impossible due to the taxes, regulations and so on. You know what it takes to hire a single employee? Payroll tax, record keeping regulations, insurance, OSHA compliance, registration, W-40, workers comp insurance. I can't do it!

      Ah yes, the evil government is stopping you from being an entrepreneur. Of course. The US must be like an even more restrictive version of the USSR if it is impossible to practise capit

    • The reason is simple: We need to stop letting the government make life difficult for American business.

      I love simple reasons. Really. They're almost always accurate.
      Because fuck knows it wasn't the companies who asked for money to prop up their failing business models with, it was the government's fault for being captured and giving in.
      All that's happened in the past 20 years is people lobbying to get more freedoms for a select few companies, the government granting that because of no adequate oversight a

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Quality doesn't really matter.
    When you have enough patents you can always find one that suits your needs.

    The U.S. has foolishly decided that it could give up producing any tangible goods and live by simply creating "Intellectual Property".
    Well you know what? Other countries can and have always been creating as much "Intellectual Property" as the U.S. all along, but they haven't given up the other productions (Germany, China, India, ...)

    Given recent restriction on brain importations imposed by a recent genia

  • Sad that individual patent holders don't even rate a mention. Corporations already have too much power, the patent arsenal makes that even worse.
  • 'It's foolhardy to use this statistic to infer that American firms are losing ground to foreign competitors because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity.'

    Riiiighhht. Just because we used to out-engineer the world by a long shot, and now the world has not only reached parity, but has done so on our own soil, doesn't mean that our position is weakened any! No, not that. Never mind that we train fewer engineers (as a percentage) than ever before. Never mind that we don't pay ou

  • When was the exact moment that Slashdot changed from being about devices and tech to trying to make us fear just about everything?

    Be afraid:

    - Half of US Patents go to external companies!
    - Wikileaks are dying! [slashdot.org]
    - China is hacking Google! [slashdot.org]
    - Hackers take down search engines! [slashdot.org]

    Even a tech announcement about Google able to host any file type is focused on how it will be used for malware and bring more vulnerabilities [slashdot.org].

    There is only one positive article on the front page: Tech downturn is over [slashdot.org]. Even that is attempted t

    • I think your comment would have been much more effective if you'd have disproved any of those stories you quoted. A willingness to ignore the cumulative load of small facts brings the analogy of the ostrich to my mind.

      But perhaps that is just me, seeing that the story's line "because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity" reminds me of the fact that not too many military people are killed by having a 130mm artillery shell land squarely on their noggin, but lots die from tiny

  • Since when did quality of patent matter ? The significant numbers of patent trolls out there is proof enough that it doesn't much.

  • 'It's foolhardy to use this statistic to infer that American firms are losing ground to foreign competitors because with patents, it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity.' That was the most foolhardy ostrich behavior I have heard of. Of course it matters. Look at Europe, we had a brain drain to the American market accumulating over the last century. The Americans may well end up as us, but now conceding not to us, but to East Asia. And, don't forget that Europe is coming back, too, with a s
  • it's important to consider quality, as well as quantity

    If the companies with the largest portfolios of new patents in the US include Microsoft, and given a few of the Microsoft patents highlighted in Slashdot over the year... I think the US is worse off than the numbers make it sound.

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