Cleantech innovation high in Asia, patent counts show

Given the decline in cleantech investments in recent years -- and other pressures such as competition from natural gas development -- some pundits say that cleantech has entered the trough of disillusionment in the Gartner Hype Cycle. But a glance at patent trends paints a picture of some very high inventiveness in the cleantech sector, especially in Asia.

Big eastern influence

Japan’s Toyota led the pack -- as it did in the first two quarters of 2012. It received 71 patent grants, a bump of 54 percent over the second quarter. General Electric received the second-highest number of patents, at 58, with General Motors in third, receiving 39 patents. But only three of the top 10 assignees (the holder of patent property rights) in the third quarter are U.S. firms (Ford squeezed in at number 10). The other top innovators include Japanese companies Honda and Mitsubishi, along with South Korean (Samsung, Hyundai) and German (Siemens) businesses.

"GE was big in 2011 and GM was big in 2010, but Toyota is staging a comeback," says Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti attorney Victor Cardona, whose Albany, New York-based firm focuses on intellectual property rights. He adds: “The Japanese have been investing heavily in U.S. [cleantech] patents since we've been tracking this. I don’t see it going away soon."

Because the U.S. is the biggest single market, it has the most U.S. and non-U.S. assignees, according to Cardona.

But the strong pursuit of IP among Asian firms, particularly Japanese companies, is also evident in research that GreenBiz will be releasing as part of its State of Green Business report this month. This data shows that worldwide, GE is only U.S. firm among the top 16 assignees and that only two -- Siemens and BASF -- hail from Europe.

Next page:  What about American innovation?