The Shifting Patterns of Patent Growth

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Start-Up Nation The economist Michael Mandel has argued that America's capacity for innovation is faltering. Silicon Valley is of course this country's powerhouse region for technological innovation--and seemingly a statistical outlier. With nearly 400 patents issued per 100,000 residents, the region is eight times more productive than the national average. But it wasn't always this way. Manufacturing centers such as Detroit and Pittsburgh once led the country in patents per capita. In the last 35 years, metropolitan regions have surged and dipped in innovation, but the San Jose-Sunnyvale metro area has only climbed higher.


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As I wrote in 2009:

The level of innovation has fallen off considerably in older industrial regions like Pittsburgh and Detroit. It has also fallen off in Sunbelt regions like Dallas with a large presence in computers and communications and Houston with its strong concentration of resource and energy industries. 

On the other hand, innovation has increased substantially in high-tech regions like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Seattle and also in Los Angeles. 

Two other large regions - New York and Chicago - more or less conform to Mandel's thesis: Both saw dramatic growth in the late 1990s followed by precipitous drops in the 2000s which erased those gains. 

Overall, American innovation has become more geographically concentrated and spikier.

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Richard Florida is Senior Editor at The Atlantic and Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. See his most recent writing at The Atlantic Cities. More

Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Who's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He is founder of the Creative Class Group.

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