US Patent Office Grants Massively More Patents Than Ever Before

from the this-is-not-good dept

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has made it clear that he wanted to US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to clear out some of the backlog on patents, and it quickly became clear early last year that the way the USPTO was doing this was by simply approving more patents while giving less scrutiny to the patents in question — meaning that we’re now getting a ton of bad patents approved. It seemed like an obviously bad sign when we passed the total number of patents approved in 2009 by October of 2010.

Now the final numbers are in: nearly 220,000 patents granted (219,614 if you want to be exact), a massive 31% increase over 2009 and still significantly more than ever before in history. The highest previous year was 2006, when a mere 173,772 patents were granted. So this is still 27% more patents granted in a single year than ever before. I find it hard to believe — as USPTO supporters claim — that the Patent Office suddenly figured out how to approve 30% more patents without decreasing the quality. Patently-O put together this lovely chart to demonstrate the pattern:

Prepare for the barrage of innovation delaying lawsuits… followed by a lot more patent applications. What’s funny is that USPTO director David Kappos actually thinks that ramping up patent approvals will help with the backlog. It won’t. Because all that will happen is that more people will try to get more ridiculous patents through, recognizing that the USPTO has massively lowered its standards, and they have a better chance of getting that magic monopoly with which they can sue other companies.

If you look at the numbers over the past thirty years, you see that massive jump in 1998 and heading on up until 2003, when the Supreme Court finally realized that the patent system was massively out of control and was doing a lot more to harm innovation than to help it. However, over the last few years, in response to pressure from those who abuse the patent system to squeeze money out of others, it appears we haven’t just reverted to the way things were before, we’ve leapfrogged the trend line. I can think of no better way to massively slow down American innovation than this. What a shame. Kappos’ legacy is going to be a pretty sad one when all is said and done. It’s really too bad. When he was first put into the job, it appeared he actually understood how bad patents could be harmful.

And, it should be clear that it’s not just the small “trolls” that are the issue here. A ton of big companies stocked up on tons of new patents. Not surprisingly, the top patent getters are companies that are heavily involved in massive value-destroying patent thicket lawsuits: IBM, Samsung and Microsoft. Apple — which has gone all in on some patent battles — received nearly twice as many patents in 2010 as in 2009. Ditto with Qualcomm.

Oh yeah, and guess which area of technology had the highest number of new patents? “Multiplex Communications.” In other words, the mobile phone patent thicket of lawsuits we’ve discussed in the past is only going to get messier:

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Comments on “US Patent Office Grants Massively More Patents Than Ever Before”

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Sneeje (profile) says:

Interesting to correlate with other data

Mike, might want to tone down the ‘massive’ use of ‘massive’.

It would be interesting to correlate this with patent lawsuits (which I think has been done and is hard work, I know) as well as with some analysis of the population of potential patent-generators. Patent applications shows how many patents are requested, but gives no reference for understanding how many could have or have been historically in relation to the population pool.

The number of examiners only increased by 3% from 2008 to 2009. I wonder if this is partially motivated by a need to grow fee revenue and therefore the examiner pool. A vicious cycle.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The argument is that patents encourage invention and innovation.

Yes, because no one would have figured out how to do online press releases if someone didn’t patent it.

AJ says:



Mike has a point. Barring some kind of ?magical? breakthrough in the science of patent approving, which I can?t seem to find anything on online, there doesn?t seem to be a logical explanation for the dramatic increase in approved patents.

I can totally understand why any normal person would come to the conclusion that they are using the ?when in doubt, approve? approach. They have suddenly become 30% better at doing something as complicated as approving a patent while, going to the lengths of actually engaging the persons/company applying for the patent, as another poster stated? You would think that would be big news for the patent office, and would be thrown in everyone?s faces at every opportunity.

So if you combine the dramatic increase in approved patents, with a non-equivalent increase in patent examiners, pull out the possibility of a breakthrough in patent examining as we all know it would be tossed in everyone?s face at every opportunity, you could understand why someone would think they were just rubber stamping the patents.

Anonymous Coward says:


You only have to look at the chart to see. Draw a line from 1990 to 2010. It touches the tops of each of the years (except very recently). There seems to be similar levels of gains average each year. 2000 had twice as many as 1990. Was 2000 magical too?

It galling to see someone who gets all over anyone else for coming to a conclusion “without facts” to suddenly jump to a conclusions.

Did anyone else notice that most of the posts today on TD are pretty angry? I have to think that something went horribly wrong somewhere.

TheRegulator (profile) says:

Maybe "Massive" Legal Action is required...

Nothing inhibits small innovators (and even larger ones),both here and around the world, more than lurking patents of dubious validity.

Perhaps it is time for a class action against USPTO, or if that isn’t possible, a steady stream of lawsuits challenging the most egregious patents that showcase the PTO’s abysmal disregard of prior art and obviousness.

Another approach might be to routinize the use the threat of interference litigation as a bargaining chip for negotiating with the holders of annoying patents.

An interesting source of plaintiffs and funding might be developing nations, who may be the worst victims of what is, in effect, IP colonialism.

Anonymous Coward says:


Hmmm…is that why everything is produced in Asia now because patents saved manufacturing in the U.S.?

Which is the system used in mobile phones in the U.S. again?

CDMA(a Japanese invention)?

Didn’t patents actually diminished the number of innovations in the drug industry? and by that I mean they launch less new products every year and spend less in Research and Development.

Bioresearcher now with tied hands says:

Confirmation Bias

“Applicants are drafting their claims more narrowly?” How can you claim that with examples like this:

Indeed a trial to patent nature’s own ability to produce structures, and yet again previous published work on the same applications.

Limited scope says:


Well, no… everything is made in Asia because US companies outsourced their production, not because they are copying everything. You have to understand that when corporations find better conditions for profit they will move. They don’t care about how it affects employment or the economy at all.

Apple is “proudly” an American company, and yet again, almost everything is “assembled” in China, hmmm….

Patents won’t save manufacturing jobs… don’t be naive.

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