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The US Patent Office has issued 10 million patents

The US Patent Office has issued 10 million patents


That’s a lot of paperwork

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A patent cover from 1827.
A patent cover from 1827.
Image: USPTO

The US Patent and Trademark Office just issued the 10 millionth utility patent using its current numbering system, which dates back to 1836. Patent #10,000,000 was issued to Joseph Marron and Raytheon, for “Coherent LADAR Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection,” which describes a method of bouncing lasers off of targets to figure out their range and velocity. You know, radar, but with lasers. LADAR. Go with it.

The very first US patent was signed by George Washington in 1790, but the numbering system reset with the Patent Act of 1836, which was written by Sen. John Ruggles. The first patent granted under the act, Patent #1, was granted to... Sen. John Ruggles. Well done.

Anyway, the USPTO has a fun website that’s full of factoids / incredible self-owns along those lines, but I really just want to show you this chart, which shows the incredible explosion of utility patents over the past two decades:

patent numbers over time

It took 155 years, from 1836 to 1991, for the United States to issue its first 5 million patents. It took just 27 years to issue the next 5 million. What happened?

What most people argue is that in 1982, Congress moved all patent appeals to the Federal Circuit, meaning just one court now creates the vast majority of patent law precedent. The Federal Circuit is known to be extremely patent-friendly, and the body of law it created led to a flood of patents. It’s been a push and pull, with the Supreme Court invalidating tons of specious patent classes, Congress passing the Leahy-Smith America Invents patent reform act, and all of our favorite tech companies suing each other endlessly around the world. Apple and Samsung: still going at it!

Happy 10 million, patent nerds. Please, please read the claims before publishing the drawings with a headline that says Apple is working on a super VR headset phone. I beg you.