U.S. Patent Data Shows No Innovation Slowdown
I'm reading Tyler Cowen's book "The Great Stagnation" and blogging at 30,000 feet in the air on a Delta flight to Minneapolis (pretty amazing to be able to do that). Here's a quote from Tyler on p. 20 of his book in the first chapter where he discusses the supposed slowdown in innovation, supported by this factoid:"The United States produced more patents in 1966 (54,600) than in 1993 (53,200)." MP: The top chart above shows the annual number of U.S. patents granted to U.S. residents from 1901 to 2009, using data available here from the World Intellectual Property Organization. Tyler's selection of just two random years (1966 and 1993) from more than a century's worth of patent data seems very arbitrary, and ignores the subsequent 69% increase in patents between 1993 and the peak in 2006. And here's an amazing factoid: In just the single decade between 1988 and 1998 (a decade that spans Tyler's selection of the year 1993), the number of patents granted almost doubled from 40,497 in 1988 and 80,292 in 1998!Further, Tyler's patent count includes U.S. residents only. The bottom chart above shows the total number of U.S. patents granted to both U.S. residents and non-residents, and illustrates a dramatic increase in patent activity in the United States since the early 1970s, when the Great Innovation Stagnation supposedly started. In just an 11-year period between 1988 and 1999, the total number of patents granted more than doubled from 77,924 to 153,487. The graph also shows that if there was any period that could be considered an "innovation slowdown" it would have to be the first half of the 20th century, the period that Tyler claims was a period of technological breakthroughs. To pick a few random dates, we can say that there were twice as many patents granted in 1915 (43,000) than 32 years later in 1947 (20,191), reflecting a 30-year period of stagnation in innovation.