A recent study by MIT and Santa Fe Institute (SFI) researchers found a “dramatic growth in innovation” in renewable energy technologies. The scientists based their conclusions on the number of new energy patents issued in the U.S. from 1970 to 2009. The growth is primarily driven by patents that are related to renewable energy.
While nuclear energy patents keep appearing at a more or less steady pace, the number of patents issued for other energy sectors is spiking, with solar and wind energy technologies taking the lead. According to an MIT article, the United States issued more than 1,000 renewable energy patents in 2009, a leap from about 200 patents issued annually between 1975 and 2000. In 2009, 300 patents related to oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels technologies were issued, up from about 100 patents per year in earlier decades.
The research team examined more than 73,000 energy-related patents that were issued between 1970 and 2000 in more than 100 countries. Despite some regional differences, researchers conclude that the general trends are quite similar in the U.S. and elsewhere. Researchers also note a particular increase in a number of renewable energy patents in China that happened during the last several years.
It should be noted, however, that the increase in the number of energy patents is not necessarily directly dependent on scientific advances in energy technology. For example, one might argue that the quality of patents should also be taken into consideration as some patents are worth more than others. For instance, patents can differ on their commercial value or on their technological significance for further research. In a paper “Assessing Indicators of Patent Quality: Complex vs. Discrete Technologies” the authors suggest to use various indicators of patent quality to refine the information drawn from patent data.