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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

USPTO Approaches Ten Million Patents Issued

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently reached a milestone: they issued United States Patent No. 9,000,000 on April 7, 2015. The patent is for a windshield washer conditioner, which collects rainwater from a car’s windshield, de-ionizes it, adds windshield washer fluid, and uses it to replenish the windshield washer fluid reservoir.
While this milestone is notable, it is worth mentioning that this does not mean there have been only nine million patents issues; in fact, the USPTO is on its second numbering system for utility patents, which it began on July 13, 1836. Close to 10,000 patents were issued prior to that date, with the first patent, United States Patent No. X000001, issued on July 31, 1790. That patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins for an “Improvement, not known before such Discovery, in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.”
Patent No. X000001 was signed by President George Washington himself. Patents are no longer signed by the president, which is good considering the USPTO now issues thousands of patents each week. For example, on May 5, 2015, the USPTO issued United States Patent No. 9,027,161 for a system, method, and computer-readable recording medium for supporting license acquirement. This means that the USPTO issued 27,161 patents between April 7, 2015 and May 5, 2015. That number is for utility patents alone, not including design or plant patents.
The USPTO began issuing design patents, which cover the ornamental design of an item, on November 9, 1842. The first design patent was for a new font. Since that time, the USPTO has issued over 700,000 design patents. Indeed, the USPTO issued seven hundred design patents on May 5, 2015 alone, culminating in United States Patent No. D0728890 for an oar carrier.
The first plant patent was issued August 18, 1931 for a climbing or trailing rose. The most recent, United States Patent No. PP025,527, was issued May 5, 2015, along with 30 other plant patents. It is for a Lobelia plant named ‘KLELE12094.’
When not only utility but also design and plant patents are considered, the USPTO has already issued nearly 9.8 million patents, with more being issued each week.
As noted above, close to 10,000 utility patents were issued between 1790 and 1836, which averages out to about 217 patents per year. Comparatively, 27,161 utility patents were issued between April 7, 2015 and May 5, 2015, which equals a rate of 325,932 patents per year. The following table lists the date of every million patents between those dates, along with the time taken to reach each million and the average issuance rate during each million-patent period:

Patent No.Issue DateTime to Reach MillionAverage Issuance Rate for Previous Period (per year)

1July 13, 1836 217

1,000,000 August 8, 1911 75 years, 1 month 13,333

2,000,000 April 30, 1935 23 years, 8 months 42,119

3,000,000September 12, 1961 26 years, 5 months 37,895

4,000,000December 28, 1976 15 years, 3 months 65,342

5,000,000March 19, 1991 14 years, 3 months 70,273

6,000,000 December 7, 1999 8 years, 9 months 114,600

7,000,000February 14, 2006 6 years, 3 months 161,433

8,000,000 August 16, 2011 5 years, 6 months 181,682

9,000,000 April 7, 2015 3 years, 8 months 274,436

With the exception of the period from April 30, 1935 through September 12, 1961, the average yearly issuance rate has increased in each of these million-patent periods. The rate of patent issuance will likely continue to speed up in coming years, primarily due to increased application filings. According to a report by the USPTO Patent Technology Monitoring Team, since 1963, the number of applications filed each year has increased over the previous year in all but nine years, while the total number of patents issued has increased in all but 16 years. In 2014, 578,802 utility applications were filed in the United States, along with 35,378 design patent applications and 1,063 plant patent applications, for a total of 615,243 total patent applications.
The current average pendency of patent applications from filing until disposal is 27 months, according to the USPTO’s Data Visualization Center. If the patent issuance rate continues to escalate, as appears likely, the application resulting in U.S. Patent No. 10,000,000 will probably be filed soon, if it has not been filed already. Will it be yours?
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