The Changing Landscape of Patents

The Atlantic website is presenting a fascinating interactive timeline of the rise and fall of US patent application per capita.

Covering the period 1975 to 2002, the Flash-based animation shows cities where the volume of patents moved up or down as the engines of innovation — universities, industry, high tech companies — waxed and waned.


Atlantic’s Patent Map

As I watched the animation progress towards 2002, I was struck by two things:

  • All locations experienced a “bloom” of patents during 1995-1998, the period when the Internet also expanded
  • Patent filings shifted westward as California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Colorado developed high technology centers

The animation also lets you display data for a single city and compare rates between two cities. I found it interesting that my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, a small town of 80,000, had more than three times the patents per capital as my current haunt, the Tampa metropolitan area which has 2.7 million inhabitants. I attribute the difference to the concerted effort by Lawrence’s University of Kansas to acquire patents for medical, biogenetic and engineering innovations.

The widget also is a great example of how a formerly all-print publication, using its website, can expand its content in ways not possible on paper.

Credits: Based on Google Maps, design by Charles Szymanski, imagery by TerraMetrics. And thanks to my wife, Judi Jetson, for sending me the link.

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