As a corporate inventor, one typically works in teams and therefore inventions may have several inventors. So, on average, how many inventors are involved in an invention? Well, this number is heavily dependent on the topic/subject, where it seems for my (by some quick Googling) to be more inventors on an invention in chemistry and medicine compared to wireless communication, my area of expertise.
But focusing on my own filed patents, the number of inventors on my patent applications span between 1 and 7, where the average is very close to 3. Furthermore, 2-4 is the most common number of co-inventors. Being the sole inventor is quite rare, and only around 10 out of 400+ I have been the only inventor. This again it shows that creating inventions is a team work, where all people in the team are open minded and help improving the initial idea originated from some first discussions to become a brilliant patentable invention.
Last update I gave a list of the Top-10 inventors when it comes to granted US patents. This information was based on the wiki page prolific inventors, but I have not found any similar top lists for other jurisdictions. However, the patent search engine lens.org has a great feature, where one can extract top 100 inventors for a specific search string. Since the search is on inventor names only, so if there are more than one inventor with same name, the result shown is the total for all with the name “Sven Svensson”, so the result might not be entirely correct, but at least it gives a good indication.
Anyhow this is the top-10 list as on (20/5-2017) for granted EP patents, based on lens.org search engine
- Focke Heinz (363)
- Silverbrook Kia (330)
- Van Den Berg Karel (287)
- Biedermann Lutz (252)
- Gueret Jean-louis (231)
- Suzuki Takashi (224)
- Mueller Bernd (213)
- Van Der Lely Cornelis (204)
- Draghetti Fiorenzo (198)
- Lindoff Bengt (198)
- Inoue Hiroshi (194)
- Kondo Tetsujiro (193)
Btw, I know the person on the 10th place ? (and soon it is time for # 200 celebration).
One can note that there are significantly lower numbers of granted patents on the EP top-list (top below 400) compared to the US list (top above 4000). The main reason for this is, I believe, that seeking patents in US is much more common than seeking EP patents (many patents are only filed in specific European countries and hence will not count within the EP patent umbrella) , and the fact that EP patents are a quite recent patent construction (first patents filed 1978).
Anyhow, it is nice to be on one top-list at least!
Who is the top-inventor in terms of number of patents worldwide? Well, it depends on how you count. Is it granted patents in a specific jurisdiction (US, EP, JP,…), or is total number granted patents worldwide? Unfortunately, there is no formal statistics about this, but in the era of Internet and crowd-sourcing there is a nice wiki site, prolific inventors, where determined inventors with more than 200 granted UP patents are listed. Currently the list consists of 138 inventors. I believe the list is not complete especially for the “low numbers” 200-300, and there will probably be more inventors, living and historical, with more than 200 granted US patents. However, for the top 10 the list is probably complete, and in order to qualify on the top-10 list you need …. 1000+ granted US patents!
Top 10 (12) list (May 9th 2017)
Name / Active year with published patent / #Granted US patents
- Shunpei Yamazaki, 1976-2017: 4803
- Kia Silverbrook, 1994-2017: 4742
- Lowel L. Wood, Jr, 1977-2017: 1494
- Roderic A. Hyde, 2001-2017: 1321
- Paul Lapstun, 2000-2017: 1282
- Gurtej Sandhu, 1991-2017: 1268
- Jun Koyama, 1991-2017: 1257
- Leonard Forbes, 1991-2017: 1096
- Thomas Edison, 1847(b)-1931(d): 1084
- Kangguo Cheng, 2004-2017: 1022
- Donald E. Weder, 1976-2017: 1000
- George Albert Lyon, 1882(b)-1961(d): 993
Quite amazing guys, the top-2 inventors, with over 4700 patents each, 3 times more than no #3 on the list who has “only” 1494 …
As can be seen there are in fact 11 inventors with more than 1000 granted US patents, and T.A Edison is nowadays only on 9th place. One can also note that 9 out of the 10 top-inventors still are active, and a majority of them have patents within electronics and semiconductor technologies, indicating how important patents are in these areas.
So, I – with only 251 – still have a lot of catching up to do to be at the top of the list…..
There are quite some academic studies about inventing and inventors and patents. An inventor with many inventions/patents is called serial inventor or prolific inventor. In literature, some define prolific inventors with more than 10-20 patents . With a background in mathematical statistics I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to statistics, so in this post I will try to answer some questions such as; what is the patent productivity distribution for inventors? How many inventors have more than 10 patents? 100 patents?
Well, it turns out that the distribution of number of patents per inventor also quite well follows the Lotka’s law .
Lotka’s law describes the frequency of publication (patents) by authors (inventors) in any given field (in this case patents and inventors). It states, in the patent and inventor case, that the number of inventors making x patents in a given period is a fraction of the number making a single patent, following the formula 1/x^a where a≈2, i.e., an approximate inverse-square law, where the number of inventors filing a certain number of patents is a fixed ratio to the number of authors publishing a single article. Generally, the relation is
So as an example, assume 10000 inventors having filed at least one patent over a certain period of time. Among them, statistically 1/10^2, i.e 1%, 100 inventors, have made 10 inventions, and statistically 1/100^2=1/10000 = 1 have filed 100 patents. So among 10000 inventors you can expect to find one inventor that has filed more than 100 patents.
So, now you have learned something new today ?!
“Invention (Genius) is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”,
This famous quote was made by the world probably most well known prolific inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, 1847-1931, and I agree, at least to 99% :-). Btw, Edison was named inventor on 1084 granted US patents, and also made at least one invention per year under 60 consecutive year!
Behind each idea/invention there are lots of hours of work. Not only the hours spent on coming up with the idea, but the time to make it into a patent application ready to be filed. You need to remember that an idea in your mind is not an invention until it has been written on paper, and filed as a patent application. As a corporate inventor, you probably have some patent engineers/patent attorneys helping out with the patent drafting but you probably need to write the first invention disclosure and need to spend time on reviewing the patent application draft etc.
In my career as inventor I have met many people who have had great ideas, but didn’t spend time to write the idea on paper. In some cases, I guess it was laziness, but in most other cases, it was not possible for them to find work hours to spend the amount of time needed for get the good idea on paper, due to other tough product/task deadlines.
So, the take with you from this blog post is
- For employees: You need to spend time on your brilliant ideas in order to get them ready for filing as a patent application!
- For employers: Make sure that your talent and innovative employees have sufficient time for preparing invention disclosures and reviewing patent drafts!
Many people believe that one needs to be an one-of-a-kind Einstein in order to come up with inventions. That is not true. Furthermore, it is also expected that in order to obtain a patentable invention one needs to invent something new in the same ballpark as inventing the wheel. That is not true either.
Many inventions today, may be small improvements of an existing technique that seem to be non-important, but solves a problem in a new and inventive way that improves something (performance, reducing cost etc.) with an amount that it has a business value to be protected by a patent.
So can anyone be an inventor? I guess so. What you need is knowledge of the subject or topic you are working on. A study made by the authority Tillväxtanalys, 2011 about “Svenska uppfinnare” (in Swedish), indicated that a majority of Swedish inventors where highly educated (Master degree and PhD:s). Looking at my co-inventors throughout my career, I will say that this is probably true for corporate inventors working at high-tech companies. However, it is very important to understand that an invention does not need to be very high-tech. Many inventions are clever (and looking at them afterwards, simple) solutions to well-known problems, but the solution is made in a novel and inventive way.
So I will definitely say that high formal education is not the only success factor for being an inventor. I believe that it is equally important that one has an open mind and a genuine interest in the subject/topic you are working with. In the next few blog posts I will start to reveal some of my secrets about how to become a prolific inventor. Hang on ….
One can divide inventors into two different groups; independent and corporate inventors
Independent inventors patent their inventions so that they have their own rights over them, and plan to earn income from selling the product the patent covers or selling or licensing the patent to others. Many people think inventors are people like Walt Disney’s Gyros Gearloose – which could be seen as an independent inventor – but independent inventors are not in majority.
Instead, most inventors are corporate inventors (as myself) and usually inventions are made in the course of employment and are ultimately owned by the employer. The ownership of an invention made by an employee for an employer is often specified in the terms of employment. The terms may be different depending on type of invention relative the employer business (the invention relevant or not relevant for the business), different depending on laws in different countries as well different between different companies. But the general principle is that the employer owns the rights to the business relevant inventions made by the employee, but the employee in exchange gets a monetary compensation. The employer who made the invention is however still the inventor and gets his/her name on the patent (and the credits in the personal CV). In Sweden for example, there are some general guidelines about ownership and monetary compensations for inventions made by employees for an employer, “Uppfinnaravtalet”.
Hence, there is an economical incentive for the employee employed by companies focusing on innovation, to innovate and come up with business relevant inventions that may generate revenue for the employer, a win-win situation.
There are a lot of information out there on Internet about patents and the value of patents for the industry. However, I have not found so much information about how to become an inventor and the way to think in order to create patents. In this blog i will reveal some of my secrets on how to become a prolific inventor.
OK, Who am I?
I’m an independent researcher with a background in Electrical Engineering (MSc EE 1992) and Mathematical Statistics (PhD 1997), both exams from Lund University, Sweden, with around 20 years experience from research in the Wireless Communication Industry at Ericsson Research.
With more than 420 filed patent applications and around 1400 granted patents worldwide within the area of wireless communication, I think I have some experience related to patent creation that could be of interest for a wider audience.