Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Want to Be More Innovative? Move to Boulder. Or Sweden.

patentsIn an earlier post, I pointed out that cities generate much more than their “fair” share of innovations. The reason is simple: there’s more opportunity to run into new ideas, concepts, and people. It turns out that innovation is even more concentrated than I thought. Just 20 of the America’s 370 metropolitan statistical areas — accounting for 34% of the population — produce 63% of the nation’s patents. The top five patent-producing metropolises in the U.S. (in order) are: San Jose, CA, Burlington, VT, Rochester, MN, Corvallis, OR, and Boulder, CO. These areas account for 12% of the U.S. population but 30% of American patents.

The finding comes from a new Brooking’s Institute report on patents. Some other highlights:

  • The pace of patenting in the U.S. continues to climb. The growth of patent applications slowed after the IT bubble burst but is now at an all time high.
  • Though the pace has increased, the U.S. ranks ninth in the world in terms of patents per capita. The countries ahead of the U.S are (in order): Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Israel, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, and Japan. (Those pesky Scandinavians are at the top again).
  • The average patent is worth about $500,000 in direct market value — and much more as it diffuses through the economy.
  • The last period of great patent growth in the United States fell between the Civil War and the early 20th century. We “democratized” invention during that period — with many patents coming from blue-collar workers who were not professional researchers. Today, patents are more complicated, more difficult and expensive to obtain, and require more education. The ability to create patents is concentrated in fewer organizations in fewer places.
  • The price per patent is rising in the U.S.. From 1953 to 1974, $1.8 million in R&D spending generated one patent. Since 1975, the cost has been $3.5 million (in inflation adjusted dollars).
  • Almost half (48%) of the patents granted in the U.S. from 2006 through 2010 could be grouped into the Big Ten categories: Communications, Computer Software, Semiconductors, Computer Hardware, Power Systems, Electrical Systems, Biotech, Measuring & Testing, Information Storage, Transportation. The top five categories account for slightly more than 30% of all patents.
  • Patent ownership has become broader and more competitive. Of the top ten patent producing companies from 1976 to 1980, only four were in the top 10 in 2011-2012: IBM, GE, GM, and AT&T.
  • The federal government dominated R&D spending up to approximately 1970. By the late 1970s, the federal government share fell below half. In 2009, the government share of R&D spending was about one-third. Roughly 60% of federal R&D spending goes to private companies, 30% goes to universities (including university-administered national labs).
  • Metropolitan areas that lead in patent production also lead the nation in terms of of productivity growth. They also enhance local employment opportunities and generate a disproportionate number of initial public offerings (IPOs).

The Brooking Report provides ample evidence that the research and innovation that lead to patents has a dramatic impact on local economies, employment, and growth. Bottom line: if you want your city to grow, don’t build a football stadium. Build a research university. Or move to Boulder.

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