U.S. universities at the top of the 2012 patents list


by David Safier

Interesting stat. On the list of the top 100 universities receiving U.S. utility patents in 2012, U.S. universities hold 15 of the top 20 spots. I'm ignorant enough not to know how much of a big deal this is. After all, it's universities all over the world filing for U.S. patents. But if people all over the world make sure to get U.S. patents for what they create, it means something. With that caveat . . .

The top four are the University of California, MIT, Stanford and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Next is Tsinghua University, followed by University of Texas and California Institute of Technology, and so on down the line, a number of U.S. universities followed by one or two from the rest of the world.

Again, not to push this too hard because of my admitted ignorance, but if our K-12 schools are so lousy, how do our universities get the intellectual power to come up with all those patents? Is it the foreign students who attend? If that's true, why the hell would they come to our universities if all the great students are back home?

Leaving my ignorance behind, here's what I know. True, our students don't score at the top of international tests. The reasons are many, but that's a fact. However, when it comes to invention — that is, creative thinking, intellectual risk taking, entrepreneurship — our students do very well. That's why the minister of education in Singapore, one of the reliably high scoring nations on international tests, said,

"[The U.S. has] a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well–like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

That's why educators from Asian nations visit U.S. schools, trying to figure out how we foster what the Singapore minister calls "creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition." Maybe, just maybe, that's why so much ground-breaking innovation happens in the U.S. Maybe, just maybe, that's why the brightest young tech people in the world gravitate to Silicon Valley rather than our top graduates going to . . . what's the international equivalent of Silicon Valley, anyway?