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Rochester remains strong center for patents; Albany rising

U.S. National Archives
via Flickr

Patent activity - an indicator of economic ingenuity - has been on a steady rise for the past three decades, a report by the Brookings Institution has found, but innovation is shifting to high-tech sectors and the highly educated.

Brookings this morning released a survey of patent activity in the country from 1980-2012.

"The biggest change since 1980 has been the explosion of inventions in the I.T. industry," says the report's lead author, Jonathan Rothwell.

While the country is seeing more patents after a slowdown in the 1970's, the location of patent activity has not been evenly distributed - largley shifting to the West Coast and areas around strong academic research institutions.

The San Jose, Calif./Silicon Valley region leads the nation for patents per capita, followed by Burlington, Vt. Bolder, Colo., Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and Austin, Texas are also hotbeds of invention, the survey found.

Rothwell says old industrial cities are producing as many patents as they once did, but Rochester, N.Y. still came in 13th on the survey, powered by its universities and the footprint left behind by Kodak.

Albany's patent power is increasing,thanks to its burgeoning nanotech sector, according to Rothwell, and came in 18th on the survey. Ithaca ranked 19th in country (again, this is per capita), powered by the huge research capacity of Cornell University.

Syracuse has seen a decline in patent activity, Rothwell says, but that doesn't mean it can't get its mojo back.

Rothwell says if cities invest properly in research and innovation, it can see a quick turn around in its inventive capacity.

"In a short period of time, strengthening research universities, graduating more STEM workers, can have a big effect," he says.

Strong innovation and research cultures can lead to economic growth and strength.

"These inventions translate into commercial products that are sold all around the world and ultimately bring back money to the United States and even to particular regions where patents are invented," Rothwell says.

Top 20 metro areas for patent activity per capita:

  1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
  2. Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.
  3. Rochester, Minn.
  4. Corvallis, Ore.
  5. Boulder, Colo.
  6. Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y.
  7. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  8. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
  9. Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas
  10. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif.
  11. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash.
  12. Raleigh-Cary, N.C.
  13. Rochester, N.Y.
  14. Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.
  15. Trenton-Ewing, N.J.
  16. Sheboygan, Wisc.
  17. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
  18. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.
  19. Ithaca, N.Y.
  20. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.-Wisc.

Source: Brookings Institution