Via Brad Plumer, a new OECD report concludes that the rising number of patents over the past decade is a bit of a mirage:
The quality of patent filings has fallen dramatically over the past two decades. The rush to protect even minor improvements in products or services is overburdening patent offices. This slows the time to market for true innovations and reduces the potential for breakthrough inventions, according to a new OECD report….Patents from inventors in the United States, Germany and Japan are the most highly cited, which suggests they are true innovations being used by many firms in their products to generate further innovations.
Brad points out that patent trolling has increased in the United States over the same time period. So we appear to be dominating the world at both ends of the spectrum: we have the best patents and the worst ones. On average, though, even ours have getting noticeably worse over the past decade. I blame it on software patents.