Patents help put a stamp of ownership on a piece of technology or an idea. Concord Monitor reporter David Brooks got curious recently and wondered which New Hampshire towns have the most patent-holding residents per thousand. He crunched some numbers and shared what he found with NHPR's Peter Biello.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
So David, you didn’t look at every town in the state, did you?
No, there’s a limit to how much Excel I’m going to do for an article.
Of course. So of the towns you did look at, which town had the most residents per capita who are also patent holders?
Well, I looked specifically at towns around Concord – all the towns around Concord – and there I found that Dunbarton – and I’m looking at patents that were issued last year through the middle of November; I didn’t have all the data for the entire calendar year, but it’s fairly reflective. So the town of Dunbarton actually led the pack; it had 6 patents associated with people living in that town, which is 2.15 patents per 1000 people in town.
And why do you think that is?
Well, it might be because people in Dunbarton are “wicked smaht”, but I suspect it’s because Dunbarton is pretty well-off. It’s a rich suburb next to a city that has a number of companies that might produce patents. And so what happens is when you file a patent… a company will file a patent, and it lists several people from the company who invented it, and it gives their hometowns. So if you have a well-off suburb next to a city or with a lot of companies, and the engineers and the executives from that company like to live in a well-off suburb, that suburb will have a lot of patents.
Which seems almost open and shut as far as why that’s the case, right? They live near the companies that have a business interested in filing patents. But is it also in some way a money issue – people who have the money and resources to actually file a patent?
Yeah. I mean, filing a patent is not hideously expensive; you can do most of it on your own if you’re willing to spend a lot of time. But it takes a certain amount of expertise and it’s easier to hire lawyers and all that to do it for you. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if you get in litigation it can cost a gazillion bucks. But it’s not something you can just do on a whim, which explains why I don’t have a patent on me. Otherwise I’m sure I’d have tons of them.
My respect for you is diminishing. You don’t have a patent? I can’t believe it.
I’m patent free, I’m afraid.
But the correlation between wealth-slash-income and patent holders is pretty obvious. So I looked at some other select towns around the state, including some that I suspected from some previous work I was pretty sure would have high numbers. And the highest I could find in terms of per capita patents were the towns of Bedford and Hollis, which are very rich – by New Hampshire standards – suburbs. Bedford’s a suburb of Manchester, home to Dean Kamen amongst others, and Hollis is a suburb of Nashua. And both of them have lots of executive and engineers that live there in their nice houses, and so they’re the ones that get patents. The rate of patents in those two towns is about 2.7 per thousand, so it’s probably close to a third higher than in Dunbarton.
And were you able to find or identify some towns that had a high proportion of residents with patents who didn’t seem to be close enough to a big town or live in a wealthy town?
Not that I found, but as I say, I didn’t go hunting around for all the towns. I mean, it only takes a couple of inventive people in a town of 2000 people to give it a high ratio. And I certainly know of folks who generate inventions in their basements or their garages and go out and get them patented. They tend to be retired engineers. But certainly you can find them all around the state. The question is do they cluster somewhere? I don’t know.
So what does this say overall about the creativity of inventors here in New Hampshire?
Well, obviously patents are awesome, which is why I wish I had one. Above and beyond sometimes they make you a lot of money. But what it really says I think to a certain extent, and this is what I’ve learned from people who do hold patents either for companies or on their own, is it to a certain extent having a patent is not as absolute a measure of creativity and braininess that a lot of us think. It’s frequently a business decision, particularly when you have a company that issues patents.
So the two big patent issuing companies in New Hampshire that I know of are BAE Systems down in the Nashua area, and DEKA, which is the R&D company in Manchester that Dean Kamen founded. Those two generate 10, 20 percent patents in the state. And I’ll bet you anything both of those companies have a lot of inventions which are not patented for business reasons, that they just decided to not go through the patent, not to alert the competitors or whatever.
So patents as a measure of creativity is an inexact number. It’s cool and they’re fun to look through to see what they are, but it’s not like an IQ number that says New Hampshire is this smart because we have this many patents.