10 million patents and counting

Charlotte Tilbury & Jonathan Markham | September 2018

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued U.S. patent number 10 million on 19 June 2018.  More than just a (big!) number, this milestone marks the rich history and strength of both intellectual property and human innovation.

U.S. patent number 10,000,000 for "Coherent Ladar Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection", a technology that improves laser detection and ranging (LADAR), symbolises the breadth of modern scientific invention, with applications in many fields including, autonomous vehicles, medical imaging devices, military defence systems and space and undersea exploration.

This technology, invented by Joseph Marron and owned by Raytheon Company, is a far stretch from the first U.S. patent, signed 228 years ago by George Washington, and issued to Samuel Hopkins for a process of making potash (an ingredient used in fertilizer).

Indeed, our technological advancement, and its dramatic acceleration over recent years, can be mapped through the dates and subject-matter of U.S. patents 1-9 million.  As summarised by the USPTO:

  1. U.S. Patent Number 1,000,000 was issued on August 8, 1911, to Francis H. Holton, for a tubeless vehicle tire;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 2,000,000 was issued on April 30, 1935, to Joseph Ledwinka for a vehicle wheel to increase the safety and longevity of pneumatic tires;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 3,000,000 was issued September 12, 1961, to Kenneth Eldredge for an automated system that translated letters, numbers and symbols to data processing code;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 4,000,000 was issued on December 28, 1976, to Robert Mendenhall for a process for recycling asphalt aggregate compositions;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 5,000,000 was issued on March 19, 1991, to the University of Florida for an innovative way to produce fuel ethanol;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 6,000,000 was issued on December 7, 1999, to 3Com Corporation’s Palm Computing for an extendible method and apparatus for synchronizing multiple files on two different computer systems;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 7,000,000 was issued on February 14, 2006, to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company for a process for producing polysaccharide fibres;
  1. U.S. Patent Number 8,000,000 was issued on August 16, 2011, to Second Sight Medical Products, Inc. for a visual prosthesis apparatus; and
  1. U.S. Patent Number 9,000,000 was issued on April 7, 2015, to WiperFill Holdings LLC for a system of collecting rainwater to replenish a windshield wiper reservoir and windshield washer conditioner.

As evidenced by this list and noted by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, upon signing the 10 millionth patent, “…given the rapid pace of change, we know that it will not take another 228 years to achieve the next 10-million-patent milestone”.  In fact, if current grant rates continue, it could even take less than 30.