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US tech status an Indian, Chinese invention

india Updated: Aug 24, 2007 05:52 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times
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Behind the US's status as a tech superpower are its patent filings and behind its patents are its Asian immigrants. Indians and Chinese Americans were the key contributors to nearly a quarter of the patents filed in the United States between 1998 and 2000, says a new study.

The study, a third in a series on America's immigrant entrepreneurs by a team from Harvard and Duke Universities, says Chinese Americans were involved in 16.8 per cent of such patents, their Indian counterparts in 13.7 per cent of them. Since there are more people of Chinese origin in the US than there are Indians, says lead author Vivek Wadhwa, "on a per capita basis" the two communities file the same number of patents.

The team analysed the names of inventors on patent applications filed from the US with the World Intellectual Property Organisation filed over a six year period. The figures are conservative: the researchers dropped names "that could not definitely be linked to China or India."

Indians and Chinese immigrants yet to become US citizens contributed marginally more patents. For example, 8.2 per cent of the patents were by non-naturalised Indian immigrants while 5.5 per cent were by US citizens of Indian origin. Explaining the Asian edge, Wadhwa notes both groups are "very highly educated".

The Asian inventor's star is still rising. Both increased their share of patent applications by nearly half in the six-year period. This mirrored another stat: foreigners residing in the US were behind over a quarter of all patents filed in that country, up from eight per cent in 1998. Indians and Chinese inventors often shared credit for the same patent.

Wadhwa says, "A big surprise was the huge contribution foreign nationals made in creating global patents for top American firms." Over 70 per cent of the patent applications by telecom firm Qualcomm had a foreign inventor's mark. The figure was roughly 65 per cent for drug giant Merck and engineering firm GE. There were some surprises. "I have no idea why the Microsoft patent numbers are so low: 3 per cent," says Wadhwa. Two out of five patents filed by Uncle Sam are by foreign-born inventors.

India can only cheer through its diaspora: 1.5 million Indian-Americans filed 5,761 WIP patents in 2006, one billion Indians filed 648 in 2005.