For centuries, the cutting edge of technology and business has been defined by inventors. From Nikola Tesla to Bill Gates to Elon Musk and beyond, the modern world has been shaped by the innovations produced by some of the most inventive minds humanity has ever seen.
The work of these inventors has shaped the present state of many of the industries QAD’s customers and partners operate in, and we anticipate that trend continuing far into the future. Given the extent to which decades of invention have shaped QAD and our customers, let’s take a deep dive on invention and innovation.
While QAD has customers in over 100 countries, we wanted to focus this analysis on invention in America due to its diversity, large geographic size and availability of data. By looking through government data relating to patent applications, we were able to determine where the innovators are in the United States, and ultimately figure out where the top hotbeds of invention in the country are.
The Cities America’s Inventors Call Home
The United States Patent and Trademark Office maintains a publicly searchable database of US patents. Each patent is searchable by the name(s) of those who applied for it, any city mentioned on the patent including where it was applied for, details of what the patent is for, and more going back to 1976.
We used this database to search for patents connected to each of the 100 largest cities in the United States and tracked the number of results for each. We then mapped out the top 25 cities that have been listed on issued patents the most over the last 40+ years, the results of which can be seen above.
The most obvious takeaway from these results is that the inventiveness coming from Silicon Valley can not be understated. Inventors from San Jose, California have been issued more patents than any other city on our list despite having a population less than 1/8th the size of New York’s. Joining San Jose in the top five are two more staples of the California tech industry, San Francisco and San Diego.
Of course, bigger cities will naturally have an advantage when it comes to the total number of patents issued based solely on their larger population size. For this reason, we used US Census data released every decade going back to the 1960s to calculate average population sizes for each city in our evaluation. With that in hand, we were able to calculate how many patents are issued for every 100,000 people living in each city, putting everyone on a more level playing field.
While California still dominated the top of the list, it is the much smaller city of Fremont, California that takes the top spot over other California cities, San Jose and Irvine. A little digging into Fremont reveals that companies such as Tesla, Lam Research, and Boston Scientific are among the top employers in the city, which may explain why so many patents have ties to the 235,000 people who make up America’s 98th-largest city.
Another notable city is Boise, Idaho. While a recognizable name, Boise does not instantly spring to mind when considering major American cities. However, the city has increasingly attracted tech firms to set up major offices in the city, and at present companies such as Micron Technology, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft each have a large presence in the city.
Boise has become a major tech hub thanks to its location, affordability and natural beauty. The city is located in a prime position to travel to major west coast locations such as Seattle, Portland and the Silicon Valley. Given the less expensive cost of living in Boise as compared to those cities, it makes sense that tech talent is tempted to live and work primarily from Idaho’s largest city and travel to those larger tech hubs when necessary. Quality schools, city infrastructure, and the gorgeous landscape in and around the city are also added benefits that have convinced so many innovative and inventive tech workers to call Boise home.
The United States Of Invention
Of course, inventions can and do come from places outside the city limits of America’s largest urban areas. To get a more complete view of how inventive America is as a whole, we found another database maintained by the US Patent Office that covers the years 1963-2015 and made it much easier to group patents by specific states than the previous database.
When tallying up the state-by-state results, we were not surprised to find California leading the pack in terms of the total number of patents issued. As one of the largest geographically and the most populated states in the country, California has a natural advantage in this kind of analysis, and that is even before considering the impact the tech industry would have on results. Still, it is a bit shocking to see just how far ahead of the competition California really is, as the state has earned more than twice as many patents as any other state in the country.
In fact, in the 52 years covered by this data, California inventors have been issued more patents than the 33-lowest-patent-earning states (Maryland through Alaska in our ranking) combined!
Once again, however, we felt that evening the playing field a bit would give us a more honest perspective on which parts of America are truly the most inventive as opposed to the most populated. We again used Census data to find average populations for every state in the country from 1963-2015 and used that as a basis for another calculation of how many patents are issued for every 100,000 people.
Looking at things this way, California drops all the way to fifth in the country, with tiny Delaware coming in first with a whopping 63.56 patents issued per 100,000 people that live there. While that is a surprising number, in the case of Delaware specifically, all may not be as it seems. Delaware has a centuries-old reputation as a state that is particularly business-friendly, with tax codes and various laws in place that make it very appealing for businesses to incorporate there. Notably, the state has a Court of Chancery structure in place that allows businesses to resolve disputes—including those involving patents—quickly with a judge rather than a jury.
All of these factors have led over a million companies to incorporate in Delaware, even if the actual operation of the business occurs elsewhere. As a result of the state having ties to more companies than the number of people who actually live there, Delaware’s outsize presence on patent filings makes a lot of sense.
Also of interest is the fact that Idaho, home to the previously-discussed Boise, finished second. This data all suggests that those looking for true inventiveness in America would do well to look at Idaho, as it’s inclusion in the top five alongside California and three Northeastern states makes it truly stand out.
Finally, we used this same data to evaluate how inventive each region of the country is. Unsurprisingly, the western part of the country finished first in every metric including total patents issued, patents issued per year, and patents issued per 100,000 people. The size and importance of the tech industry in the western part of the country can not be overstated, as innovation is rewarded in the tech industry, so it makes sense that so many inventive and innovative products come from there.
The Northwest came in second, remarkably close to the West in every metric. The drop-off from there to the Midwest is bigger but still seems reasonable. The performance of the South, however, is worth noting. Despite having a similarly large geographic footprint, the region issues patents at a rate that is just two-thirds of that of the West, and earns less than half as many patents for every 100,000 as both the West and Northeast.
While some cities, states, and regions may foster innovation and produce inventions at a greater pace than other places in the country, this evaluation drives home the idea that inventions and inventive people can and do come from all over the United States. Cities from coast to coast earned spots on our top 25 maps, while Delaware and Idaho, finishing as the states in first and second in terms of inventions per 100,000 people, was an unexpected but thoroughly intriguing result.
Inventions have created the world we all live and work in, a disruptive world in which change and innovation occurs faster than ever before in history. It is yet to be seen what kinds of inventions the future will bring and how they will change the world, but one thing we know for certain is that
QAD is focused on helping manufacturers rapidly adapt to change and innovate for a competitive advantage in an increasingly disruptive and turbulent world.