Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union Analysis, Inventor Edition

Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address was great news for the inventor community. He mentioned patents and inventors as one of the reasons "America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world." He is right.

The analysis is found below, but the bottom line is that Barack Obama is the only President to have said the word "inventor" twice in a single State of the Union speech. He mentioned the "eureka" kind of inventor in a SOTU for the first time in 101 years. His is also, subjectively speaking, the first SOTU since Millard Fillmore's 1852 address to clearly lay out the role of patents and inventors in American economic success.

Barack Obama's speech was notable to many observers for its emphasis on the importance of innovation -- and was even mentioned as a "revenge of the nerds" moment. I did not remember a discussion of inventions or patents in any recent State of the Union (SOTU) address, and it turns out my memory was spot-on. I found the government site with copies of each SOTU from 1992 through 2011, wrote a quick program to analyze the content, and came up with these results:

The term "inventor" was used only twice between 1992 and 2011 -- both times by President Obama, and both times in 2011.

The term "patent" was used in a positive way only once -- by President Obama in 2011. The term was also used by President Bush in 2006 and 2008, but both times it was in the context of banning the patenting of humans or embryos.

The term "invent" was used only twice to discuss inventors -- both times by President Obama in 2011. "Invent" was used in the phrase "reinvent America" in 1993 and "reinvent government" in 1994, 1995 (twice), 1996, 2000, and 2011 (three times). Thomas Edison's "invention factory" was also mentioned in 1999 in the context of historical preservation. Barack Obama's sixth use of the term "invent" in 2011 discussed reinventing a company for new technology, so perhaps this should count as a third mention of inventors in the 2011 speech.

The absence of any SOTU acknowledgement of America's inventiveness between 1992 and 2010 struck me as (hopefully) anomalous. I found another source that had all of the SOTU addresses from 1790 to the present. Unfortunately, it was not quite as anomalous as it first appeared.

The term "patent" was first used in a SOTU in 1825. It was used 33 times in the 19th Century, 13 times in the 20th Century, and 3 times in the 21st Century, for a total of 49 times. I found this really surprising. Patents are tied with progress, so I expected the term's use to grow, not shrink, over time. Before Bush's mention of patents in 2006 in the context of prohibiting their issuance for human embryos, they were last mentioned in 1938 by President Roosevelt (his mention of them in that speech was quite critical, actually). The term inventor was used only 15 times in a SOTU message, 8 times in the 19th Century, 5 times in the 20th Century, and 2 times in the 21st Century.

The term patent was used 49 times in SOTU messages, as follows:
1825 (John Quincy Adams, 1 time)
1831 (Andrew Jackson, 1 time)
1845 (James Polk, 2 times)
1849 (Zachary Taylor, 1 time)
1852 (Franklin Pierce, 3 times)
1858 (James Buchanan, 1 time)
1861 (Abraham Lincoln, 2 times)
1863 (Abraham Lincoln, 1 time)
1864 (Abraham Lincoln, 1 time)
1869 (Ulysses S. Grant, 2 times)
1871 (Ulysses S. Grant, 1 time)
1873 (Ulysses S. Grant, 1 time)
1875 (Ulysses S. Grant, 1 time)
1882 (Chester A. Arthur, 1 time)
1884 (Chester A. Arthur, 1 time)
1886 (Grover Cleveland, 6 times)
1890 (Benjamin Harrison, 3 times)
1892 (Benjamin Harrison, 3 times)
1893 (Grover Cleveland, 1 time)
1903 (Theodore Roosevelt, 5 times)
1908 (Theodore Roosevelt, 1 time)
1909 (William Howard Taft, 3 times)
1910 (William Howard Taft, 2 times)
1915 (Woodrow Wilson, 1 time)
1938 (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1 time)
2006 (George W. Bush, 1 time)
2008 (George W. Bush, 1 time)
2011 (Barack Obama, 1 time)

The term "inventor" (excluding "inventory" or "inventories") was used (or was the root of a word used) 11 times in SOTU messages, as follows:
1825 (John Quincy Adams, 2 times)
1845 (James K. Polk, 1 time)
1852 (Millard Fillmore, 1 time)
1872 (Ulysses S. Grant, 1 time)
1873 (Ulysses S. Grant, 1 time)
1886 (Grover Cleveland, 1 time)
1890 (Benjamin Harrison, 1 time)
1909 (William Howard Taft, 1 time)
2011 (Barack Obama, 2 times)
[added subsequent to original posting:  2012 Barack Obama, 1 time]

This analysis was done with automated word counting, so a phrase like "it is patently wrong claim I was the inventor of long speeches" would count in both categories, even though it does not reference the "eureka" kind of patents or inventions. Looking at the actual context narrows the results a bit (and introduces some subjectivity). The "eureka" kind of patent or invention, or the organization or authority of the patent office, was discussed in conjunction with the term "inventor" or "patent" in the following SOTU addresses:

1825 (John Quincy Adams, "Patent Office" 1 time, "inventor" 2 times discussing patent office authority)
1831 (Andrew Jackson, "patent" 1 time, discussing amending patent law)
1845 (James K. Polk, "patent" 2 times, "inventor" 1 time, discussing patent office organization)
1852 (Millard Fillmore, "patent" 3 times, including a line oddly similar to Barack Obama's 2011 message: "The inventive talent of our country is excited to the highest pitch, and the numerous applications for patents for valuable improvements distinguish this age and this people from all others. The genius of one American has enabled our commerce to move against wind and tide and that of another has annihilated distance in the transmission of intelligence." Yes, my fellow Americans, the telegraph was the internet of 1852....)
1858 (James Buchanan, "patent" 1 time advocating briefly for amendment of the patent laws)
1861 (Abraham Lincoln, "patent" 2 times, including noting that "The receipts of the Patent Office have declined in nine months about $100,000")
1869 (Ulysses S. Grant, "patent" 2 times, including noting that "During the year ending the 30th of September, 1869, the Patent Office issued 13,762 patents, and its receipts were $686,389, being $213,926 more than the expenditures.")
1872 (Ulysses S. Grant, "inventor" 1 time in the context of the international exposition, encouraging "American inventors and manufacturers [to] be ready to avail themselves of the opportunity for the presentation of their productions if encouraged by proper aid and protection")
1873 (Ulysses S. Grant, "inventor" 1 time, "patent" 1 time, stating that he authorized a representative of the patent office to secure additional protection for American inventors in Europe)
1875 (Ulysses S. Grant, "patent" 1 time, stating that "The steady growth and increase of the business of the Patent Office indicates in some measure the progress of the industrial activity of the country.")
1882 (Chester A. Arthur, "patent" 1 time in discussing an international agreement regarding patented articles)
1886 (Grover Cleveland, "patent" 5 times and "inventor" 1 time in relatively detailed discussion of the patent office)
1890 (Benjamin Harrison, "patent" 3 times discussing patent office, "inventor" 1 time honoring the inventor John Ericsson)
1903 (Theodore Roosevelt, "patent" 5 times discussing reciprocity in non-citizens obtaining patents in US and overseas)
1909 (William Howard Taft, "patent" 3 times, "inventor" 1 time in discussion of patent treaty)
1910 (William Howard Taft, "patent" 2 times, discussing IP treaties)
1938 (Franklin D. Roosevelt, "patent" 1 time, discussing patent monopolies in a negative way)
2006 (George W. Bush, "patent" 1 time, urging prohibition on patenting embryos)
2008 (George W. Bush, "patent" 1 time, urging prohibition on patenting human life elements)
2011 (Barack Obama, "patent" 1 time, "inventor" 2 times, discussing importance of innovation to America's economy and success)

Some may disagree, but I excluded the 1849 statement that agriculture statistics and research have been "paid for out of the patent fund"; the 1863, 1864 and 1871 notations that the information about patents is found in the report of the Secretary of the Interior; and a 1893 discussion of the removal of $1,000 from patent office funds for other research (seriously, a SOTU discussion of $1,000).

Adding up the actual "eureka" type patent and inventor references, we have a total of 9 mentions of "inventor" (1825, 1845, 1872, 1873, 1886, 1890, 1909, and two in 2011) and a total of 36 mentions of "patent" (1825, 1831, two in 1845, three in 1852, 1858, two in 1861, two in 1869, 1873, 1882, five in 1886, three in 1890, five in 1903, three in 1909, two in 1910, 1938, 2006, 2008, and 2011). If you are counting, that is 6 mentions of "inventor" in the 19th Century, one in the 20th Century, and two in the 21st Century. The "eureka" type of patent was mentioned 22 times in the 19th Century, 11 times in the 20th Century, and 3 times in the 21st Century.

As an intellectual property point of reference, the term "copyright" was used 22 times, and last appeared in a SOTU address in 1910. "Copyright" was used in 1852, 1881, 1884 (twice), 1885 (twice), 1886 (twice), 1890, 1892 (three times), 1893 (twice), 1901, 1905 (6 times) and 1910. The terms "trademark" and "intellectual property" have never appeared in a SOTU address. For a science and technology point of reference, the term "science" appeared 198 times (3 times in the 18th Century, 44 times in the 19th Century, 112 times in the 20th Century, and 39 times in the 21st Century). The term "innovation" appeared 37 times, 22 of them in the 21st Century and 14 of them (~38%) in Barack Obama's SOTU addresses. Barack Obama was also responsible for eight of the twelve times the term "solar" was used (George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter each used the term twice). The term "technology" was first used in a SOTU in 1906, and was used nearly as many times in the first eleven SOTUs of this century (48 times) as in the entire 20th Century (56 times).

We waited 99 years for a President to acknowledge the importance of inventors to our nation's welfare. For our country's sake, I hope we take President Obama's words to heart.

DISCLAIMER: I wrote software to automatically parse the SOTU documents, and one bad side effect of that approach is that words that got recorded oddly (misspelled, broken up with a dash in the middle, etc) would have been missed by the software. I am not a full time academic or researcher, so in addition to using software to assist in the first cut, my read of the documents was pretty perfunctory. I suspect, particularly in speeches with one legitimate mention of patents, that I may have counted the land-grant type of "patent". Overall the numbers should be pretty accurate, but somebody with more time might find a mistake here or there.

Closing, competing, "back to the future" quotes:

"The inventive talent of our country is excited to the highest pitch, and the numerous applications for patents for valuable improvements distinguish this age and this people from all others." Millard Fillmore, 1852

"No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs.... The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.... What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people." Barack Obama, 2011