Fact of the Week: Immigrant Inventors Produce 23 Percent of US Patents
Source: Shai Bernstein, Rebecca Diamond, Abhisit Jiranaphawiboon, Timothy McQuade, and Beatriz Pousada, “The Outsize Role of Immigrants in US Innovation" (working paper, National Bureau of Economic Research, March 2023).
Commentary: While they only account for 16 percent of U.S.-based inventors, immigrant inventors produce nearly a quarter of total innovation output as gauged by the number of patents and patent citations as well as the economic value of their patents. In a study comparing the impacts of immigrant inventors with those of their native-born peers between 1990 and 2016, immigrants produced 23 percent of all patents. Those are among the findings Shai Bernstein, Rebecca Diamond, Abhisit Jiranaphawiboon, Timothy McQuade, and Beatriz Pousada report in The Contribution of High-Skilled Immigrants to Innovation in the United States (NBER Working Paper 30797).
Two factors are at play in immigrant innovation success. First, immigrants disproportionately live in innovation hubs, counties that have high rates of patent productivity. Second, immigrants tend to patent in sectors that are changing rapidly. They generate more than 25 percent of innovative output in the computer, communications, electronics, and medical fields, but just 15 percent in older technologies such as metalworking, transportation, and engines.
Language and cultural issues do not appear to be barriers. Immigrants have more collaborators on average than native inventors.