On June 19, 2018, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted its 10 millionth patent. Since the inception of the patent system and grant of the first patent, the rate of technological improvement has increased 25-fold as discussed below.
The 10 millionth patent (i.e., U.S. Pat. No. 10,000,000) was for Coherent LADAR using Intra-pixel Quadrature Detection. LADAR stands for laser detection and ranging. Put simply, the invention was for detecting objects such as cars with an optical detector. The specific technology described in USPN 10,000,000 may not be significant, but it is a good time to humbly look back and recognize the collective technological improvements of people and appreciate the ingenious mind granted to man by God.
Overview of the 10 million patents
|Patent Number||Title||Grant Date|
|USPN 10,000,000||Coherent LADAR using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection||June 19, 2018|
|USPN 9,000,000||Windshield Washer Conditioner||April 7, 2015|
|USPN 8,000,000||Visual Prosthesis||August 16, 2011|
|USPN 7,000,000||Polysaccharide Fibers||February 14, 2006|
|USPN 6,000,000||Extendible Method and Apparatus for Synchronizing Multiple Files on Two Different Computer Systems||December 7, 1999|
|USPN 5,000,000||Ethanol Production by Escherichia Coli Strains Co-expressing Zymomonas PDC and ADH Genes||March 19, 1991|
|USPN 4,000,000||Process for Recycling Asphalt-Aggregate Compositions||December 28, 1976|
|USPN 3,000,000||Automatic Reading System||September 12, 1961|
|USPN 2,000,000||Vehicle Wheel Construction||April 30, 1935|
|USPN 1,000,000||Vehicle Tire||August 8, 1911|
|USPN 1||Traction Wheels||July 13, 1836|
Above is a table of patents at each million-patent grant milestones. We can see two different trends.
First, we can see the direction of technological improvements. At the inception of the patent system, the United States was in a sort of a caveman primitive state. We were focused on wheels and tires. We are now patenting in areas of sensing cars.
Second, we see that the speed of innovation has increased over the past 200 years. The first million patents were granted over a period of 75 years. By 2018, the last one million patents were granted over a period of 3 years. This is better illustrated in the graph of patent number versus the grant date shown below.
What does USPN 10,000,000 represent?
Looking back at these patents, one can’t stop but think about what all 10 million patents represent:
First, they represent the collective ingenuity of the inventing community.
Second, each patent represents a new invention or incremental improvement to what already existed before it. Also, these patented inventions or improvements had to be significant or nonobvious. They were not trivial improvements. Of course, some represent incremental improvements to existing devices and methods of doing things. But, others were truly revolutionary innovations.
Third, the 10 million patents represent millions and billions of dollars in research and development that the public and competitors did not need to spend to make and use the patented technology.
Beneficially, all of the technology and innovation described in these patents have been or will be dedicated to the public. This means that the public and competitors can build upon the patented technology and save money on research and development. These patents teach them to make and use the patented technology.
If not for the patent system, many of the inventions would remain in someone’s garage or utilized as a trade secret without ever being transferred to others.
Fourth, the 10 millionth patent also symbolizes the successful functioning of the U.S. patent system.
Congratulations to the inventing community and to all the people at the Patent Office that make the patent system function.
More innovation is still to come
Friends, family and laypeople, not familiar with the patent system, are amazed that innovation still exists today. In some ways, I am also amazed that the USPTO has issued its 10 millionth patent. However, as long as we would want to do something faster, cheaper, easier, more efficiently, those means of doing so are all inventions ready to get patented.
25-fold increase in the rate of technological advances since 1836
Based on the graph, we can visualize that the pace of technology is much faster now than it was back in 1836. The USPTO is currently granting about 333k patents per year, whereas in 1836, the USPTO granted about 13,333 patents per year. The pace of technology has certainly increased over time by a factor of 25 (i.e., 333k divided by 13.3k).
As I mentioned above, the initial patents were directed to wheel and rim devices. It might appear that technological advances have moved on from wheel and rims to self-autonomous cars. However, that simply is not true. There is still more to be invented, even in wheel and rim technology. We now have improved tread designs to achieve better traction (See USPN 8,215,568) or tire technology related to tire tread wear sensor (See USPN 7,180,409). In other words, even if you are not in an emerging area of technology shown in mainstream media, you can still innovate in your area of expertise. Don’t give up hope.
I invite you to contact me with your patent questions at (949) 433-0900. Please feel free to forward this article to your friends. As an Orange County Patent Attorney, I serve Orange County, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and surrounding cities.