Innovation in the U.S. is highly concentrated, but it may come from unexpected places.
Almost one-third of patents filed since 2000 were granted to individuals or corporations in the five top-producing metropolitan areas. And, among the areas that claimed the most patents per person from 2007 to 2011, perhaps only one is obviously at home on the top-five list: San Jose, Calif., the seat of Silicon Valley.
The others, identified in a new Brookings Institution report on invention and economic performance in America, are Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, Minn.; Corvallis, Ore.; and Boulder, Colo. In some cases, the high number of patents per capita is driven by a single industry, if not a single corporation. In others, it’s more diverse — but only slightly.
Being a patent producer matters for a local economy. If the bottom fourth of metro areas — those with the lowest patent production — produced as much as the top fourth, they could boost economic growth by about 50 percent over 10 years, the Brookings report estimates. That would translate into an extra $4,300 per worker over a decade.
Here's a rundown of the top patent-holders based in each of the five metro areas that had the most patents per capita from 2007 to 2011:
San Jose, Calif.
The breakdown of patent holders in San Jose is relatively diverse. Apple topped the list, responsible for 4 percent of the patents granted in 2011. But the company's lead wasn't strong. Cisco, the networking giant, had 3.5 percent; IBM held 3.1 percent. And Hewlett-Packard and Applied Materials Inc. each held 2.7 percent of the patents granted.
(Credit: AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
The patent story in the Burlington, Vt., area is all about IBM. Three-fourths of the area's patents in 2011 went to the tech giant. Why is IBM in Vermont? "A combination of good luck and careful planning," according to Vermont Public Radio. In the 1950s, IBM President Tom Watson Jr., who would reportedly vacation in the area, jumped at the chance to buy a factory that went up for sale in Essex, near Burlington.
Remarkably, there's a metropolitan area where IBM held an even larger share of the patent market in 2011. In the Rochester, Minn., area, the company was responsible for 80 percent of all patents granted. The Mayo Clinic, the famous medical care and research nonprofit, followed with 5.5 percent.
(Credit: Google Maps)
The patent holdings in Corvallis, Ore., were slightly more diverse than Burlington or Rochester. Hewlett-Packard was granted 153 patents in 2011, accounting for just over 44 percent of the total in the Corvallis area. Micron Technology, a memory and semiconductor developer, came in second with 43 patents, or 12.4 percent.
Like San Jose, the number of patents granted in Boulder, Colo., in 2011 was a little more spread out. Dharmacon, which has since been acquired, was a life-sciences company and the biggest patent-holder in the Boulder area in 2011. With 57 patents, it accounted for 4.2 percent of the area's share that year; The other top holders were a semiconductor company, biopharmaceutical company and healthcare products company, as well as hard-drive maker Seagate.
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