With a GDP of nearly $19 trillion and a population in excess of 323 million, the United States is the largest consumer market in the world. As such, global corporations make doing business in the U.S. a priority. To take full advantage of this market, American and foreign companies must protect their proprietary innovations and inventions through patent grants.
Of the three types of patents — utility, design, and plant — utility patents relate specifically to inventions and innovations, including any improvements to existing processes, products, and materials. As measured by utility patents, 2017 was a record-breaking year for corporate innovation. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted companies just over 320,000 patents in 2017 — up 5.2% from the previous record of 304,126 patents granted the year before.
Rates of innovation vary considerably from one industry to the next and from one part of the world to the next. For example, a handful of industries — namely computing, telecommunications, and medicine — accounted for the bulk of innovations last year. Meanwhile, American companies accounted for 46% of patents granted in 2017, companies based in Asia accounted for 31%, and European companies accounted for 15%.
Of the thousands of American and international companies that were granted patents last year, just a few major corporations accounted for a massive share of global innovation. Fifty companies alone — including America’s most recognizable tech companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon — accounted for about 30% of patents.
Patent research company IFI Claims Patent Services tracks which specific entities are issued patents. As multiple entities are often owned by a single parent corporation, 24/7 Wall St. combined patent grants issued to the same parent company to identify the world’s 50 most innovative companies. While each company on this list was granted at least 700 patents last year, the companies at the top of the list secured thousands.