Behind the Fact: An Analysis of Amazon’s Patents

A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the federal government that permits the inventor to exclude others from making, selling, or…

A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the federal government that permits the inventor to exclude others from making, selling, or using the invention for a period of time. The patent system encourages unique and useful inventions.

“A country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn’t travel any way but sideways or backways.” -Mark Twain, 1890

I got curious about patents at Amazon. How often is a patent granted to Amazon? How many inventors co-author a patent? Why is the most inventive Amazonian? I decided to follow my curiosity and write a fact for Fact of the Day 1, focusing on the answers. I’ve walked through my process below. Have suggestions, insights, or questions? Sound off in the comments.

Step 1: Define the objective.

A) What ten people have the most patents at Amazon?
B) How many patents are granted every year?
C) How many people collaborate to file the average patent?

Step 2: Identify where patent data exists.

Justia has a database of the U.S. Patent & Trade Office’s (USPTO) patents, including design and utility patents. One can search by company, in this case filtering for Amazon’s patents granted.

Step 3: Extract and structure the patent data.

I’m not comfortable enough with Python to write a script to go page-by-page in Justia and scrape the data into a table. Luckily, that’s where UpWork can help. I hired a Python-skilled individual who worked 2 hours on this project and delivered the following Python file: AmazonPatents.py. In the first section of code, the script visits Justia URLs and adds the information it finds to a table (called Output.txt).

This screenshot is a snippet of the Python script written to crawl Justia for Amazon’s granted patents.

Step 4: Analyze the patent data to answer the objective.

In the second section of Python code, the script loops through Output.txt to answer the questions we set out to answer.

The objective questions answered using the Output.txt file created from Step 3.

A) What ten people have the most patents at Amazon?
Eric Jason Brandwine: 341
Gregory Branchek Roth: 201
Swaminathan Sivasubramanian: 191
David R. Richardson: 158
Michael David Marr: 132
Bradley E. Marshall: 128
Jeffrey P. Bezos: 122
Jesper Mikael Johansson: 113
Nicholas Alexander Allen: 102
Christopher Green: 99

B) How many patents have been granted each year?

With the output below, two elements jump out to me. First, Amazon was founded in 1995, so a 1989 patent is unexpected, possibly acquired via an acquisition. Second, the patents decrease each year after 2014, which seems counterintuitive for a growing and innovative company. The reason for this decrease is that the analysis here is for patents granted, meaning they have been reviewed and approved by the USPTO. A graph of patents filed would look very different (and not have a decline from 2014 to 2020).

1989: 1
1995: 2
1997: 7
1998: 11
1999: 25
2000: 21
2001: 21
2002: 17
2003: 32
2004: 45
2005: 74
2006: 155
2007: 193
2008: 231
2009: 258
2010: 596
2011: 769
2012: 1219
2013: 1561
2014: 1914
2015: 1895
2016: 1465
2017: 1049
2018: 381
2019: 43

The first section finds the top 10 inventors, the second section finds patents granted each year, and the third section calculates the average inventors who collaborate on the average patent.

C) How many people collaborate to file the average patent?

3.22 inventors collaborate on the average patent.

Have questions, comments, or suggestions? Sound off in the comments!