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Is 2019 the year of the inventor?

It can seem like there are no good ideas left to invent. But the data tells a very different story…

17 June 2019

The growth of total patent applications worldwide | Infographic by Catalogtree

2019, it’s tempting to think that civilisation’s ability to create something new has long since peaked. From aeroplanes to the World Wide Web, electric cars to chess-playing AI, the once unimaginable is now taken for granted.

Isaac Newton said that his discoveries were only made possible because he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”. It is easy to think that the great minds of the Enlightenment and Victorian eras, who gave the world electric motors, lightbulbs, and antibiotics, really did invent everything.

How much inventing is there really left to do? The answer is: lots — according to the data.

Inventor Thomas Edison, who lived from 1847–1931, is famous for holding over a thousand utility patents filed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). But, in 2015, Lowell Wood, a relatively unknown American inventor surpassed Edison’s achievement when he personally filed 1,085 patents, and Wood’s list of inventions is still growing fast.

The Dyson car patent diagram

The total percentage of granted patents over time | Infographic by Catalogtree

Just looking at the overall number of patented inventions — the past actually generated far fewer than we might assume. Records reveal that between 1852 and 1915, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office granted approximately 486,000 patents, averaging about 7,700 per year. Between 1916 and 2013, however, the agency granted 2 million patents — roughly 21,000 per year. As this number has grown still further, 2018 might be the best time to be an inventor, anywhere, ever.

Data collected by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shows that just two years ago, inventors around the globe filed a record-breaking 3.1 million patent applications, up 8.3% from the year prior. And more patents are passing the grade than ever before, too. In 2016, 1.35 million patents were granted, compared to 755,200 a decade earlier.

While men continue to design the majority of most of the objects and technologies that become patents, WIPO reports that female inventors are on the rise. In 2017, for example, women were listed on nearly one in three international patent applications. Ten years prior, that rate was less than one in four.

The Dyson car patent diagram

The growth of total patent applications worldwide | Infographic by Catalogtree

And then there’s social media. If you have an idea today, showing it to your potential customers has never been easier. At present, 2.2 billion people visit Facebook each month, while one billion hours of video are viewed on YouTube every day. Furthermore, in less than a decade, the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has raised $3.9 billion for various ideas and plans. In the same timeframe, contributors have successfully funded more than 7,000 technology campaigns and over 12,151 design projects.

Finally, in an attempt to boost productivity and spur the economy, an increasing number of governments are offering tax incentives to companies willing to invest in research and development. In the UK, for instance, HM Revenue & Customs statistics show that the amount of funds given to businesses both big and small has increased virtually every year since they launched their R&D tax credit program in 2000–01. In total, companies have made over 240,000 claims, amounting to £21.4 billion in tax relief.

In short, if you want to invent something new, there’s never been a better time than now.


Words: Paul Hiebert / Infographics: Catalogtree

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