Corporations win by a mile!
However, it takes a bit of reading between the lines of the available
historical statistics on patents in order to clearly demonstrate this.
First, let's have a look at the historical numbers that the US Patent
Office makes available:
Reports Available for Viewing -- Historical and Extended-Year Set Statistics
Of the numerous reports here, there are two in particular that give
the big picture of patent trends, and where the patents come from.
The first is the historical record going back to the 1700's:
U.S. Patent Activity -- Calendar Years 1790 to the Present
The numers show the tremendous growth in patent activity since the early days.
In the 1700's, there were only a few dozen patents for inventions
issued per year. It wasn't until the 1850's that invention (utility)
patents broke the 1,000 per year mark. In 2004, by comparison, there
were over 164,000 patents for new inventions!
The long-term trends don't break out the patents by sectors...this
data is only available since 1963. However, the data do show us that
almost half (about 43%) of all patents granted in the US in the past
100 years, have been granted since 1963, so that this information
certainly is representative of the overall trends for the past
The sector-specific data can be found here:
PART A1- Table A1-1b, Breakout by Ownership Category
The grand total numbers are presented over in the right-hand-most
column. The numbers show us that a combination of US and Foreign
corporate patents account for the bulk of patents issued:
In the period covered by the table (1963-2003), there were 3,583,813
patents issued -- 1,675,007 to US corporations, and 1,190,355 to
Thus, corporations were granted 2.86 million patents out of a total of
3.58 million, or almost 80% of all patents.
In contrast, the US government was granted a mere 51,995 patents,
which amounts to about 1.5% of the total patents. Individuals have a
larger chunk, but still, a small piece of the pie compared to
But where, you may ask, are the universities?
Statistics for university patents are presented for a slightly
different time period, here:
U.S. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES--UTILITY PATENT GRANTS 1969-2003
The bottom line in this table is, that for the 1969-2003 period, only
9,435 patents are listed as "U.S.- Owned Utility Patents Granted to
Universities" -- a pittance relative to the millions of patents
granted to US and foreign corporations in roughly the same period.
So, the corporate sector is far and away the big hitters as far as new
inventions go, followed by private individuals as a distant second,
with government and universities barely in the running.
I trust this information fully answers your question.
However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need. If there's anything more I can do for you, just post a Request
for Clarification, and I'm happy to assist you further.
search strategy -- Used the bookmarked USPTO site to look for historical statistics.