November 7, 2008
News Release 08-107
Contact: Peg O'Laughlin, 202-205-1819
Field is Growing as Firms of All Sizes Develop New Patented Products and Processes
Innovation in industrial biotechnology is strong and growing, and patents are playing a central
role, according to a new staff research study by the U.S. International Trade Commission's (ITC)
Office of Industries.
Patenting and Innovation in Industrial Biotechnology uses patent data, survey results, and
profiles of firms in two emerging sectors (cellulosic ethanol and bio-based plastics) to paint a
new picture of innovation in industrial biotechnology.
The research study was prepared by ITC staff. The findings in the study are those of the authors
and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. International Trade Commission or any of the
The study's principal findings include:
- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued 20,428 patents with a primary
classification related to industrial biotechnology from January 1975 through December
2006. Industrial biotechnology patents were about one fifth of all biotechnology patents
issued during the period.
- Industrial biotechnology patents issued each year climbed steadily beginning in the mid-
1980s, peaked in 1999, declined from 2000 through 2005, and rebounded in 2006. These
trends were influenced by issues internal to the USPTO, including longer periods of
review and stricter standards. Although most patents were issued to domestic and foreign
corporations, the share of patents issued to U.S. universities increased sharply over the
- New firms of all sizes are steadily entering the industrial biotechnology field by obtaining
patents. Small firms, and particularly university spinoffs, hold valuable patent portfolios
in the emerging areas of cellulosic ethanol and bio-based plastics. In general, firms
patenting in industrial biotechnology hold a relatively small number of patents, especially
when compared to other high tech sectors.
- Strategic alliances among firms, universities, and the U.S. government are prominent in
the profiles of industrial biotechnology firms. Patents provide an important mechanism
for the transfer of knowledge between alliance partners and are facilitating the movement
of industrial biotechnology from research and development stages to commercialization.
- This study's findings that industrial biotechnology patents are not controlled by a small
number of firms, and that patents are facilitating transfers of technology and knowledge,
are consistent with survey results. According to more than 70 percent of biofuel and
chemical company representatives responding to an ITC survey, "patent barriers" are one
of the least significant impediments to the research, development, and commercialization
of industrial biotechnology products and processes.
Patenting and Innovation in Industrial Biotechnology (Staff Research Study No. 31, USITC
publication 4039, November 2008) is available on the ITC's Internet site at
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