Patents are an imperfect measure of innovation, but they can nonetheless convey the underlying story.
Jesse LaBelle and Ana Maria Santacreu offer some interesting descriptions of how patent patterns changed between the 1980s and the 2000s in \”Geographic Patterns of Innovation Across U.S. States: 1980-2010 (Economic Synopses, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2021, #5).
The two figures also show a geographic shift in the patterns of innovation. The authors write:
In the 2000s, patent creation was concentrated mostly in three regions:
- Northeast: New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and the New England states
- West Coast: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California
- Rust Belt: Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Together, these states accounted for about 67 percent of total patents granted in the 2000s. While the East and West Coast states specialized in the computers and electronics sector, the Rust Belt states specialized in the machinery sector. These two sectors were the most innovative, based on the numbers of patents granted. The least innovative states were Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alaska. The rate of patent creation in the most innovative state was 22 times larger than in the least innovative state.
Here\’s a figure looking at patents by industry. Again, be cautious in comparing the top and bottom panels because the total number of patents has risen (as shown in the horizontal axis). But it is striking that in the 1980s, the distribution of patents across industries covered a reasonably wide spectrum. By the 2000s, patent activity had become much more concentrated in the \”Computer and electronic products\” sector.