Baltimore area middling on patents, a measure of commercial innovation

The Baltimore area has a ton of research. But patents on that research? Not so much.

A new report from the Brookings Institution shows that the metro area's level of patenting remained basically flat over the last decade, while the U.S. as a whole saw a 60 percent spike in patent grants.

Per capita, our region's number of patent applications from 2007 to 2011 ranked 116th among metro areas -- far and away below the powerhouses like San Jose and San Francisco.

Why care? Brookings, a Washington think tank, says patent-heavy areas have lower unemployment and other economic pluses. The battle for good jobs, especially on a global playing field, could hinge on innovation.

Our story about the report explores some of the reasons for the Baltimore region's middling rank, along with the myriad efforts to pick up the pace on commercializing research. It's been a long road: Read Tricia Bishop's 2007 story about work underway at Johns Hopkins if you're curious about the history of hand-wringing and initiatives in the tech transfer world.

Brookings' full report is here. Check out the interactive feature that lets you see how each metro area ranks -- along with the graph showing how patenting levels have changed over the years nationwide and a list of the top-patenting companies in recent years. (Guess who's No. 1 and see if you're right.)

By the way, the Baltimore area is 31st on a straight ranking of patent numbers from 2007 to 2011. But that tally doesn't account for metro areas' wildly different sizes. That's why Brookings also calculated per capita (as well as per-job, the similar figure you'll see on the online profiles).

Oh, and if you doubt patents are necessarily a good idea -- there's a debate about whether they protect or stifle innovation -- you'll like what the CEO of a UMB startup has to say in our story.   

Connect by email at jhopkins@baltsun.com or on Twitter @jsmithhopkins.

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