Patent Facts

Some facts and statistics about patents (with a focus on software and information technology). I will update this post from time to time, so subscribe to the feed to get notified! Please suggest other noteworthy facts in the comments.

  • the number of patent lawsuits filed each year in the US has tripled.

    source: New York Times

    years: 1990-2010

  • “Internet software patents” are litigated eight times as often as other patents.

    source: Allison, Standford [404] in 2012 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 3 SSRN

    years: 1998-2009

  • In Germany, patents covering software and telecoms are invalidated by courts in 88.11% of cases. For all patents, the main ground for invalidations by the German Federal Patent Court is lack of patentability in 75% of the cases.

    source: Bardehle [pdf]

    years: 2010-2013

  • In the US, patents challenged on the basis of the US Supreme Court Alice v. CLS Bank decision are invalidated by Federal Circuit courts in 91.9% of cases (66.5% for all courts). (Also ses Deb Nicholson’s talk)

    source: Japser L. Tran, Univ. of Minnesota

    years: 2013-2016

  • Apple and Google spend more on patent litigation and patent purchases than on research and development.

    source: New York Times

    year: 2011

  • IBM abandons around 40% of their US patents in the first three years.

    source: patentlyo

    year: 2012

  • IBM has been granted most US patents for [more than] 20 years in a row

    source: bloomberg

    year: 2013

  • More than 1000 software patents are granted each year by the EPO or EPC states.

    source: European Commission

    years: 1978-2002

  • More than 20 000 patent applications on “digital communications”, “IT methods” and “computer technology” are filed each year at the EPO.

    source: European Patent Office

    year: 2013

  • 88% of the patents held by “patent assertion entities” (a.k.a. “patent trolls”) in the US are information and communication technology patents, with more than 75% software-related.

    source: US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pdf

    years: 2009-2014

The following assertions rely on surveys or do not have reliable sources or data. If you have some idea of a better source for these facts, please get in touch.

  • 52% of companies purchase patents to secure freedom to operate

    source: IAM

    year: 2015

  • Between 40% and 90% of all patents issued are never used or licensed by their owners.

    source: The Economist

    year: ???

Good articles and other sources on patent facts


Official statistics

Not patent facts

Unfortunately, a lot of debates on patents do not rely on facts, especially debates on patents applied to information technology. Instead, we are witnessing what Mark Lemley has described as “Faith-Based Intellectual Property”. Here’s a list of things which are not facts about patents but which are often asserted.

  • “companies invest heavily in software research and development in the United States because new inventions, implemented through software, can be protected by patents”. Yet, the article that makes this assertion offers absolutely no evidence that the eligibility of software as patent subject matter has specifically contributed significantly to US growth in software research and development.

    (I would also note that the conclusion in the executive summary is legally incorrect: the promotion of progress in the useful arts is not a “constitutional imperative”; under the US constitution, Congress “shall have the power to“ promote the progress in the useful arts, but this is not an imperative.)

    source: David J. Kappos (former USPTO president) and Aaron Cooper, At the core of America’ s competitive edge: why software - implemented inventions are — and must remain — patent eligible [pdf], Aug 26, 2015