Brainstorms

we’re still in a state of invention, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Massachusetts ranked fourth in the total number of patents granted last year, outranked only by California, Texas, and New York. We’re third when the numbers are adjusted for population size, as on our chart. Perhaps more important, the Bay State ranked sixth in the increase of all patents compared with 2000, better than any other state in the Northeast or Great Lakes region. That doesn’t mean we have no worries looking ahead, however: States with relatively youthful populations, such as Colorado, may have more growth potential than a state like Massachusetts, where most people are already well into their most inventive years.

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Idaho and Vermont top our per-capita ranking, but most of the patents in Idaho regularly go to Micron Technology, which makes “memory and imaging devices,” and the bigfoot among inventors in Vermont has been IBM, which operates a semiconductor factory just outside of Burlington. Patent awardees in Massachusetts are much more diverse, with a plurality going to individuals rather than companies. There has also been more turnover in the list of top patent-generating firms, with a shift from high-tech to biotech and pharmaceuticals. During the latter half of the ’90s, the top five were Digital Equipment Corp., MIT, Polaroid, General Hospital Corp. (Mass. General), and Analog Devices. From 2001 through 2005 (the last year for which detailed information is available), MIT was on top, followed by EMC Corp., Sci-Med Life Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

Whether all these new-industry inventions lead to jobs is another matter. An April report by the Massachusetts High Technology Council and UMass Donahue Institute warned that the state has slipped from fifth to seventh in the number of people employed in the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors; Michigan and Pennsylvania both passed Massachusetts between 1998 and 2004. “The Bay State is undeniably a world leader in the research and development of biological and pharmaceutical products and treatments,” according to the report, but so far it “has not been as successful in attracting bio-pharma manufacturing activities.”