×

This central N.H. towns leads in patents per capita – but does that mean much?



Monitor staff
Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Long ago I gave up my dreams of winning the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Fields Medal or any trophy at Boutwell’s Bowling Center, but deep in my heart I still have hopes of snagging that most American of kudos: A patent.

The closest I came was when me and my brother – who owns a patent, although it’s just a software patent (pooh!) – fiddled around with developing an adjustable sleeve to extend any car’s sun visor. This seemed to be Patent Office material, but it fizzled out and nothing has taken its place.

Now, however, I may have found a way to improve my odds: Move to Dunbarton.

According to a database of patents assembled by Targeted News Service, the folks who provide the Monitor with our weekly list of New Hampshire patents, Dunbarton reigns supreme among Concord-area communities in terms of patents per person.

In 2016, six patents were associated with Dunbarton residents, or 2.15 per 1,000 residents.

By contrast, Concord only saw one-third of a patent per 1,000 residents in 2016 (13 patents total), while Franklin and Pittsfield had just one patent for their entire towns, a rate of about one-eighth of a patent per 1,000 residents.

Does this data mean that Dunbartonians (or is “Dunbartinoids”? “Dunbarflies”?) are eight times smarter than people in Concord, or 15 times smarter than people in Franklin?

Nah. It mostly just means they’re richer.

Dunbarton has one of the highest median-household incomes of any community close to Concord, and a look at the data shows that New Hampshire’s most patent-generating communities are the well-off suburbs of New Hampshire’s biggest cities.

The best ratios I found (i.e., most patents per person) were in very rich Bedford, adjoining Manchester, and almost-as-rich Hollis, adjoining Nashua. Each town had slightly more than 2.7 patents per 1,000 people.

This doesn’t mean basement workshops in those towns are churning out inventions, although I’m sure some of that happens. It mostly reflects two facts: (a) it takes money to bring an idea into patent-able form and follow through with the application, and (b) these towns are home to senior engineers and executives of patent-producing companies, who get their names on corporate patents through brains, perseverance and imagination, or maybe by leading teams of engineers.

The best-known example of that is Dean Kamen, who lives in Bedford and is probably the state’s most prolific my-name-is-on-a-patent individual, due both to his inventiveness and his management acumen, but there are plenty of others.

What this means, as you don’t really need to be told, is that there’s nothing magical about breathing Dunbarton air that will unleash your inner Thomas Edison. There’s no avoiding the fact that it requires ideas and – ugh – hard work.

But this also reflects something I’ve found over the years from talking to patent holders. They tend to be a bit dismissive of patents, thinking they often reflect business decisions and other economic factors rather than creativity and inventiveness.

So keep that in mind when you hear people pointing to patent numbers as a reflection of the braininess of a community, state or country or a company or industry. Take it with a grain of salt.

Having said that, I’d still like to have one. However, I’d like to have a bowling trophy, too, and judging from my last candlepin outing that’s not going to happen, either.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek)

TOWN – PATENTS PER 1,000 RESIDENTS

Bow – 1.17

Canterbury – 1.27

Chichester – 1.17

Concord – 0.31

Dunbarton – 2.15

Epsom – 1.50

Franklin – 0.12

Henniker – 0.41

Hopkinton – 0.71

Loudon – 0.55

Pembroke – 0.14

Warner – 0.35

Weare – 0.57

Webster – 1.6

Note: Figures based on 2016 patents issued through mid-November 2016 and 2015 population estimates.