Special Report

America's Most Innovative Cities

Detailed Findings

Patent activity has become more closely watched in recent years. The stakes could not be higher for the United States, whose future as an economic powerhouse depends on the growth and vitality of the technology sector.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization claiming China was violating patent and copyright laws, then the administration slapped tariffs on China.

A study by the Brookings Institution detailed how patenting in a variety of scientific fields has been increasing in the United States over the last several decades. The study said high patent production in some metro areas can be largely explained by the presence of major research institutions, especially those with well-regarded programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Many metro areas on this list are home to offices, headquarters, or plants of large companies. This is the case with Google and Hewlett-Packard in California. Both of these companies work closely with universities’ STEM programs to nurture tech talent and develop patents. In Boston, startups in the biotech and software fields work in concert with the area’s renowned research universities such as Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Venture capital funding also is a strong factor in helping stoke innovation. According to a TechCrunch story earlier this year, Boston was poised to regain its-second place ranking in venture investment behind Silicon Valley. TechCrunch reported the metro area had attracted $5.2 billion in investment funding as of July. Boston is an incubator of startups in biotech, enterprise software, artificial intelligence, and consumer apps.

In addition to education and venture capital, city and business leadership have become advocates for innovation. Cary, North Carolina, has embraced smart technology and is using a challenge grant awarded to it by the Smart Cities Council — an organization focused on sustainable solutions — to open data platforms, public wi-fi, as well as other initiatives.

The cities on the 24/7 list typically have higher educational attainment, pointing to the presence of innovation-heavy companies and workers capable of engaging in this type of research and production. In 22 of the 25 cities on the list, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate exceeds the national rate of 32%.

The 25 most innovative cities in the United States are not limited to one region.

Of the 25 cities on the list, five are in California, powered by Silicon Valley and the presence of companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, region tops the list with 739.46 patents per 100,000 residents. The U.S. average is 42.06 per 100,000. The region was granted 14,618 patents in 2015, close to 5,000 more than the metro area receiving the second-most patents — San Francisco.

New York and Colorado are represented by three cities each. Areas in upstate New York such as Ithaca tap the research clout of Cornell University, while legacy companies like specialty glass maker Corning Inc. are trying to develop technology to adapt to the 21st century. Areas like Greeley and Fort Collins in Colorado have been incubators of tech startups, reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit of the region. Those cities are also among the fastest growing in terms of population in the United States.

North Carolina and Washington have two cities on the list. The Research Triangle has been a driving force for innovation and patent generation in the region of North Carolina that includes universities such as Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State. In Washington state, online e-commerce giant Amazon and technology powerhouse Microsoft have propelled innovation.


24/7 Wall St. compiled the list of most innovative U.S. cities by using data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The 25 most innovative cities in the United States were those with the highest number of patents issued per 100,000 city residents. Population data is for 2015 and is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Content material was derived from technology-focused periodicals such as TechCrunch, company and university websites, wire services, and other media sources.

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