Patent Filing and Litigation Statistics

The headline to this post could only be made more boring if it included the word "actuarial". But if you're an inventor, the stats on patent applications and lawsuits are actually pretty interesting.

According to patent analysis firm Lex Machina, the number of patent lawsuits filed in 2013 was 6,092, 12% more than 2012 and more than double the number filed in 2010. At the same time, the number of patent lawsuits reaching courtrooms was around 100, a number that has been steady for nearly two decades. There are a fixed number of courtrooms and judges and that creates a bottleneck. This means getting to trial takes years and also means that most lawsuits settle before trial (usually after something called a Markman hearing). The companies sued most often in 2013 were Apple (59 cases), Amazon (50 cases), AT&T (45) and Google (39). The top 4 leading plaintiffs in that year were IP holding companies, commonly known as trolls, that initiated a combined total of 452 lawsuits. Let's take a moment to remember Jerome Lemelson who, depending on perspective, is reknowned as either a hero inventor or the godfather of trolling.

Now let's look at patent applications. The stats here come from the USPTO. In 2014 the number of utility patents filed in the USA was 615,243 with roughly half coming from the US itself. The US is number two in this metric. In that same year even more patent applications were filed in China. 2014 also saw the grant of 326,032 US utility patents and 23,657 design patents.

The lag between application and grant is about 2 years so if we want to consider the odds that a utility patent application will result in a grant we should look back to 2012 when there were 576,763 utility applications. From that we get our ratio of 326/576 = 57%.

In other words, based on the rough analysis above, the odds of having a utility patent issue are better than 50% and the odds of having that issued patent end up in litigation in a courtroom are 0.0003%

- Mike Marks

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