Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Inventor "top 10" list unknown?

USAToday ran a story about how the USPTO cannot identify the ten inventors who have the most issued patents.

Some text states:

America cannot identify its most prolific living inventors. We can't single out these people who should be considered national treasures.

I found this out because I wanted to interview the top 10 living patent holders for a story. I got in touch with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and asked for a list, thinking it was about the same as calling Billboard and asking for the top 10 songs.

As it turns out, the USPTO has but one guy who does statistical studies of the agency's 7 million-patent database. He last sorted for individual inventors in 1997, and has since been too busy with other projects to update that list.

I asked for help from a few commercial companies that do patent database searches. Thomson gave it a college try and for a while had a team working on my question. Others just said it couldn't be done. The question, with variables including inventors with same last names and multiple names on patents, is apparently a database operator's nightmare.

The article mentioned some top inventors.

Ravi Arimilli is IBM's top patent holder, with more than 300 patents. He's a researcher, based in Austin, who specializes in computer chip innards. Arimilli's most recent patent, issued Nov. 29, is for "Layered local cache with lower level cache optimizing allocation mechanism." He must be great at cocktail parties.

In 2002 alone, Arimilli won 78 patents. That's three patents every two weeks. Either he's a wonder-dude who makes the rest of us look like slugs, or his name winds up on a lot of work done by teams of people.

One notes that that patent rate is higher than the publication rate of Jan-Hendrik Schon.

Donald Weder is the top US citizen patent holder:

Weder, who is still alive and whose family runs floral packaging company Highland Supply, has his name on 1,321 patents. Almost all have to do with items you'd find at a florist. Weder's most recent patent — No. 6,962,021, granted Nov. 8 — is for a sleeve for holding a group of flowers. Before that, on Oct. 11, Weder was issued a patent titled, "Method of covering a flower pot." On Sept. 20, he was issued a patent titled, "Method of covering a flower pot or floral grouping."

However, the top patent holder is not a US citizen. The top holder is Shunpei Yamazaki. Most of his work involves computer and video screens for his Tokyo company, Semiconductor Energy Laboratory. As of 1997, Yamazaki held 372 patents.

Today, a search of the USPTO database turns up 1,432 patents bearing his name, whupping both Edison and Weder. Yamazaki's most recent patent, granted Nov. 22, was titled, "Reflective liquid crystal display panel and device using same." His first patent, for a computer chip design, was granted in 1980. Yamazaki has averaged about a patent a week for 25 years.


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