What makes a state innovative? Economists believe it’s a combination of factors — from education and entrepreneurship to access to capital. Innovation can be difficult to quantify, but patents, as a marker of inventiveness, are a pretty good indicator. Using data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Census Bureau, we’ve taken the total number of utility patents granted in each state from 2006-2015 and divided it by the state’s estimated 2016 population to determine what we’re calling the per capita “innovation rate” for every state.*
Which states came out on top? The results may surprise you.
Home to four of the top seven U.S. metro regions for patents, California boasts an innovation rate of more than 7.4 patents per 1,000 residents.
The state has two clear advantages: top-notch research universities to provide a steady stream of innovators and its place at the epicenter of technology, telecom, bioengineering and biomedicine.
Traditional industries such as agriculture and entertainment remain solid, if less obvious, drivers of innovation.
In 2015, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office even opened a Silicon Valley satellite office to speed up the patent filing process for companies and entrepreneurs.
University-based research at MIT drives a large share of patents in Massachusetts, but individuals and the private sector are responsible for the majority of patent volume. Together they helped push the state to an innovation rate of more than 7.5 patents per 1,000 people.
The Boston-Cambridge area alone has generated more than 62,650 patents since 2000, making it fifth among U.S. metropolitan areas.
With an innovation rate of more than 7.6 patents per 1,000 people, Idaho has its robust technology, semiconductor and bioagriculture industries to thank for its top-five ranking.
Global semiconductor device maker Micron Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory were major drivers of Idaho’s patent activity, along with individuals.
The Boise area has seen a decline in patents in recent years but still ranks among the top 20 U.S. metro regions for new inventions.
2. Washington, D.C.
Sure, you can argue that the nation’s capital isn’t a state, but can you argue with an innovation rate nearly double that of its nearest competition?
Like most things in Washington, the district owes its innovation — more than 14 patents per 1,000 residents — to the federal government. The U.S. Navy, the Army, NASA and the Department of Health and Human Services are some of Uncle Sam’s top patent generators.
Who said nothing gets done in Washington?
Small but mighty Delaware blows away the competition with an innovation rate of more than 20 utility patents per 1,000 people.
Homegrown innovator Du Pont is still churning out patents more than 200 years after its founding. Perhaps taking advantage of Delaware’s proximity to New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., communications technology companies are also innovating in the state.
Long favored by companies for its business-friendly policies — 64% percent of publicly traded firms are incorporated there — Delaware has more recently developed into a patent litigation powerhouse with a reputation for favoring patent holders. When you consider that each year roughly 90% of the patents granted go to private corporations, many of whom choose to file applications based on where they are incorporated, it seems likely Delaware will continue to wield an outsize advantage at the patent office.
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*Methodology There are nearly as many ways to combine patent and demographic data as there are inventions. Reports available for download from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) break out data by ownership location (state and country where the first-named patent assignee was located) and organization, including individually owned patents. Organizations may apply for patents using their place of incorporation or physical headquarters, a choice that is not represented in the USPTO data.
For the purposes of this article, the data reflects the total number of utility patents granted from 2006-2015, both to organizations and individuals, and the location as it was provided to the patent office by the first-named patent assignee. Information related to patent activity in specific metropolitan areas was pulled directly from the USPTO’s breakout of utility patent grants by metropolitan and micropolitan areas.
Sources Annual Estimates of the Resident Population of the United States, Regions, States and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016, United States Census Bureau
Utility Patent Counts by Ownership Location (State/Country) and Year, 1975-2015, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Technology Monitoring Team
Patenting in Technology Classes, Breakout by Origin, U.S. Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas, 2000-2015, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Technology Monitoring Team
Patenting by Ownership Location (State and Country), Breakout by Organization and Domestic (U.S.) Inventor Share, 2011-2015, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Patent Technology Monitoring Team