Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Patents are big business. Individuals and companies are obtaining far more patents today than ever before. Some simple calculations make it clear that companies are spending over $5 billion a year obtaining patents in the U.S.- to say nothing of the costs of obtaining patents elsewhere, and of licensing and enforcing the patents. There are a number of reasons why patenting is on the rise; primary among them are a booming economy and a shift away from manufacturing and capital-intensive industries towards companies with primarily intellectual assets. But whatever the reason, it is evident that many companies consider patents important.

We set out to investigate who is obtaining patents in what areas of technology and what characterizes those patents. To accomplish this, we collected a random sample of 1000 utility patents issued between 1996 and 1998. We then identified a large number of facts about each of these patents. In this Article, we use this data to predict the characteristics of patents being obtained in the population as a whole. Further, we test a large number of relation- ships between these patents, such as how nationality relates to area of technology and how the size of the patentee relates to the prosecution process. In so doing, we hope to advance the under- standing that both scholars and practitioners have about modern trends in patent prosecution.