©2018. Published in Landslide, Vol. 11, No. 1, September/October 2018, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.
Remember Y2K? The world panicked about computers treating babies born on 1/1/00 as centenarians. After all, software that only stored two digits of the year couldn’t tell 1900 from 2000. Well, U.S. Patent 10,000,000 issued on June 19, and the world hasn’t ended yet. I guess the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was prepared for the change from seven-digit patent numbers to eight-digit numbers. But there’s another problem coming, and I’d like to be the first to sound the alarm. Are you prepared for U.S. Patent 100,000,000?
Why should we think about this now? It took over 189 years1 for the first 10 million patents to issue, so patent 100 million shouldn’t issue this millennium, right? Well, a recent USPTO press release mentions the “rapid pace of change.”2 The pace is definitely picking up, at least for patentable inventions.
The million patents from number one to number one million issued over the course of about 75 years. Since 1961, each successive group of a million patents has taken less time to complete. Most recently, patents nine million through 10 million issued over the course of only three years. At that rate, on a power-series trend, U.S. Patent 100,000,000 will issue on May 3, 2081. You heard it here first! Get your databases ready now—nine-digit numbers are almost upon us!
But what if—as people say—the pace of innovation really is exponentially increasing?3 An exponential trend would mark September 5, 2024, in history as the date the USPTO issued U.S. Patents 43,000,000–100,000,000 on a single day!
Okay, maybe not. But prediction is an inexact science, so what if that actually happened? The USPTO has had about 8,000 examiners on staff over the last million patents.4 That’s about a tenth of a patent per examiner per day, spread evenly. In order to manage September 5, 2024, the USPTO would need over 530 million examiners on staff—more than 750 times the current population of Washington, D.C.5
U.S. Patent 100,000,000 is coming. I believe we have enough time to prepare for that ninth digit and prevent the database apocalypse. But the real lesson for people working with patents is a simple one: invest in D.C. real estate.
1. Disregarding the “X” patents issued from 1790–1836, for those of you keeping score at home.
2. Press Release, USPTO, United States Issues Patent Number 10,000,000 (June 19, 2018), https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/news-updates/united-states-issues-patent-number-10000000.
3. Alison E. Berman & Jason Dorrier, Technology Feels Like It’s Accelerating—Because It Actually Is, SingularityHub (Mar. 22, 2016), https://singularityhub.com/2016/03/22/technology-feels-like-its-accelerating-because-it-actually-is/.
4. Patent Examiners, USPTO, https://www.uspto.gov/corda/dashboards/patents/kpis/kpiExaminers.kpixml (last visited Aug. 20, 2018).
5. See Dan Malouff, DC’s Population Hits 700,000, Greater Greater Wash. (Feb. 26, 2018), https://ggwash.org/view/66649/dcs-population-hits-700000.