By Matthew Chun
But when did the U.S. rise to its position as a global leader in these areas? Which regions of the country have led the charge? And what is the next frontier of American innovation?
To begin exploring these questions, I analyzed 45 years of publicly available patent data to map the growth of U.S. innovation in the life sciences and computing fields from 1976-2021. I also mapped the recent growth of patented “hybrid” inventions, which are closing the gap between these historically disparate fields. In particular, the hybrid inventions explored in this project represent interdisciplinary advances in areas including bioinformatics, cheminformatics, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.
All patent data used for this project are publicly accessible through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
For the purposes of these visualizations, “life sciences” patents were defined to include any granted U.S. patent that was designated a Cooperative Patent Classification sub-class of A61K, A61P, C07J, C07K, C12N, C12P, C12Q, or C12Y (including, among other things, medicinal preparations, steroids, peptides, microorganisms, enzymes, genetic engineering, etc.).
“Computing” patents were defined to include any granted U.S. patent belonging to CPC class G06 (“computing; calculating; counting” technologies) or G11 (“information storage”), or sub-classes G16B, G16C, or G16H (covering bioinformatics, cheminformatics, and healthcare informatics, respectively).
“Hybrid” patents were defined to include patents qualifying as both “life sciences” and “computing” patents, or those falling within dedicated CPC sub-classes G16B, G16C, or G16H.
The patenting of life sciences innovations in the U.S. is shown below, demonstrating steady growth over the past few decades, with cities in the Northeast and California leading the way.
A similar pattern is observed for computing patents, albeit with less even geographical distribution and outsized contributions of areas such as Armonk, New York (the site of IBM’s headquarters); Seattle and Redmond, Washington (home of Microsoft and Amazon, respectively); Boise, Idaho (home of semiconductor company Micron Technology); and, of course, the Silicon Valley region.
A closer look at “hybrid” patents tells a slightly different story. Unsurprisingly, these interdisciplinary patents have primarily arisen from regions that already have the technical capabilities for life sciences and computing innovation. However, the relatively recent and explosive burst of these patents onto the scene beginning post-2010 suggests a newly ripening technological area that companies are making big bets on in the 21st century.
Recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and other digital technologies have the potential to revolutionize healthcare as we know it, and private companies are not the only ones taking notice. With the September 2022 release of his $2 billion spending plan to advance U.S. biotechnology, President Biden also recognized that “fundamental R&D of emerging biotechnologies . . . should be coupled with advances in predictive modeling, data analytics, artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, [and] high-performance and other advanced computing systems” to maintain U.S. technological leadership and economic competitiveness.
As money pours in to develop (and protect) inventions that bridge the historical divide between the life sciences and computing industries, obtaining a first mover advantage is likely to have substantial impacts on the future winners and losers in this new technology race. To see which regions of the U.S. have taken the early lead, please explore the interactive graph below: