Georgia's Invention Activity is Growing and Focused on Technology

Independent patenting activity has grown rapidly in Georgia over the past 30 years, with nearly 8,000 patents issued since 1975 to inventors not associated with corporations, universities or similar organizations.

A new study has found that nearly half of the products created by these inventors were in non-consumer areas, mainly in technologies such as medical devices, energy and the environment, and automotive applications. Despite their productivity, the study found that less than a third of the inventors realized commercial success with their patents.

These findings were among the conclusions of the first-ever comprehensive survey of the state's independent inventors. Conducted by Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute with support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the findings suggest that the work of independent inventors could provide untapped economic potential for the state.

"There is a significant level of creativity and product development by individuals living throughout Georgia, and this activity is increasing," said Joy Wilkins, manager of community innovation services at the Enterprise Innovation Institute. "As our survey showed, the needs of the independent inventor community are diverse and largely unmet, although there is a huge appetite for help among the inventors."

Despite the economic potential and identified needs, Georgia currently has no organization or entity that focuses on the needs of independent inventors on a statewide basis, Wilkins noted.

The survey identified the top needs of inventors, which included:

- Statewide networking for the independent inventor community,
- Greater advisement on available financial resources,
- Assistance in marketing,
- Better channels for linking with appropriate manufacturers,
- Greater access to third-party technical product evaluation,
- Business development assistance,
- Effective prototyping and design assistance,
- Help in understanding the invention, patent and commercialization processes, and
- Professional development and training.

"Beyond developing a greater understanding of the scope and nature of independent invention activity in our state, we wanted to conduct this survey to identify three areas: unmet needs, ingredients for success and effective resources for inventors," Wilkins explained. "If we can understand the needs of inventors and how Georgia Tech can better connect these idea artists to helpful resources, there is a real potential to boost commercialization and economic development throughout the state."

The research yielded some interesting demographics about Georgia's independent inventor community. More than half had at least a four-year college degree; more than half were between the ages of 45 and 64; the majority was male; and approximately one-fourth held management and professional occupations or were self-employed. There also appeared to be a tendency for independent inventors to belong to moderately high to higher income households.

The study also found that Georgia's independent patenting activity is broad-based, with all but seven of the state's 159 counties home to at least one patent. Although the Atlanta region accounted for more than half of the inventors participating in the survey, 43 percent hailed from beyond the state's most urbanized region. Outside of Atlanta, the Gainesville region accounted for the second largest share of participants, followed by the Athens and Augusta regions.

When asked what motivated their activity, the independent inventors cited reasons related to their jobs more than any other - including a need, problem, or potential efficiency recognized because of the inventor's line of work, with such reasons accounting for 30 percent of all responses given. Factors relating to making their personal life easier were the second most frequently mentioned. Money was mentioned as a motivator only to a slight degree.

Overall, reported experiences by inventors revealed that approximately one-third of inventors achieved some level of commercial success through independent production and sales, licensing, and/or sale of a patent. Although more than half (60 percent) reported they'd not achieved success at the time of the survey, approximately 32 percent of the inventors said they did experience some commercial success for at least one of their inventions.

Independent production and sales, or wrapping a company around the patented product, appeared to the most frequented vehicle to success. Licensing patents to another entity appeared to be the second most successful vehicle to commercialization, as 9 percent of all inventors - or more than one-fourth (28 percent) of successful inventors - reported they had realized success through such a path for one or more of their inventions. Another five percent reported they had achieved success through assigning or selling one or more of their patents to another entity.

The Georgia Tech researchers suggest that economic developers in Georgia consider independent inventors in strategies for economic development because collectively these inventors account for a larger share of patents than those owned by a single corporation or entity, including major research universities. The numbers bear out the dramatic increase in patents in Georgia: since 1975, independent inventors in Georgia received 9,042 patents - 1,759 from 1975 to 1985; 2,870 from 1986 to 1995; and 4,413 from 1996 to March 2006.

That economic potential is what motivated support from the EDA, which gave the project its Planning Performance Award.

"EDA's investment in this research of inventors in Georgia - and the subsequent identification of ways to support invention commercialization - supports job creation and private investment throughout the state," said Phil Paradice, EDA's Atlanta regional director. "The project, which earned EDA's Planning Performance Award for its collaborative efforts with state, local and federal entities, is consistent with our partners' comprehensive economic development strategies."

Utilizing the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the researchers determined that there were 6,845 independent inventors with a Georgia residence as of 2006. The survey pool consisted of 2,428 independent inventors, with participation by 331 inventors, a 13.6 percent return rate. Researchers analyzed more than 113,000 data points.

The survey's results will spur development of a series of recommendations aimed at better meeting the needs of the inventors. "Using the results of the survey, we will make recommendations and identify pilot services, such as training workshops, to be implemented later this year," Wilkins added.

For more information on community innovation services offered by Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute, contact Joy Wilkins (404-895-6115); E-mail: (joy.wilkins@innovate.gatech.edu).

About the Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 100
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contacts: Nancy Fullbright (404-894-2214); E-mail: (nancy.fullbright@innovate.gatech.edu) or John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).