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Patents: Why Innovators Know the Way to San Jose

September 18, 2012

By Jeff Pinkerton

In today’s global economy, innovation is the name of the game. Places that innovate create more jobs — and more higher-paying jobs. Innovation, however, is a difficult thing to measure. Economists often look at the number of patents generated as the best measure of a region’s innovative capabilities.

In 2010, 545 patents were generated in the Kansas City area, ranking us 35th out of the  100 largest metro areas in the country.  For a more accurate comparison, though, we would typically look at patents on a per-capita basis. With 2.7 patents for every 10,000 residents, Kansas City’s per capita total drops to 48th out of the top 100.

So who is generating patent activity in Kansas City? The companies with the most local patents are fairly predictable. Sprint (including Sprint Spectrum) accounts for 231 — more than 40 percent of the region’s total. Garmin, Embarq, General Electric and Cerner each had at least 10 new patents in 2010.

On the map of patent hotbeds below, Silicon Valley (the San Jose metro area) dominates the competition with an astonishing 55 patents per 10,000 residents in 2010. It really isn’t even close. To put it in perspective, San Jose has more patents per 10,000 residents than Kansas City, Austin, Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City and Nashville COMBINED.

2010 Patents per 10,000 Residents for the 100 Largest Metro Areas


Just how well patent activity measures a region’s innovation is debatable. Certain industries, like information technology, are more prolific in patent generation, so if your region is home to the research and development arm of numerous IT companies — like Silicon Valley — it’s likely you’ll generate a fair number of patents.

Take Boise, Idaho, for example. Believe it or not, Boise ranks second in the nation, with 948 new patents in 2010 (15 for every 10,000 residents). But one single company, Micron Technology, Inc., a maker of semiconductors, accounted for 607 of these.

If patent activity is, in fact, a good measure of innovation, the Kansas City region could use some improvement. By rising from the middle of the pack, we could become known as a region that generates ideas and solutions and be better positioned for global competition.

Bump up our patent production and maybe innovators will start singing “Goin’ to Kansas City” and forget about the way to San Jose.

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