Qualcomm Executive Vice President Roberto Padovani is one of San Diego's most prolific inventors. He has 109 patents to his name. Feb. 18, 2016. Megan Wood, inewsource
Qualcomm Executive Vice President Roberto Padovani is one of San Diego's most prolific inventors. He has 109 patents to his name. Feb. 18, 2016. Megan Wood, inewsource

San Diego is well known for its beautiful beaches and near-perfect weather. But federal data suggests that it should also be known as home to some of the country’s most prolific inventors.

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According to statistics from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, San Diego-area inventors were granted more than 34,000 patents from 2000 to 2013. That ranks San Diego among the top 10 regions in the country for patent grants.

Four of the leading regions are in California, according to the data. The San Jose area, nicknamed the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” was by far the most prolific area for inventions, tallying nearly 114,000 patents during the 13-year period.

Top 20 U.S. Regions with the Most Patents

Metro AreaPatents Granted, 2000-2013
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA113,962
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA76,417
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA70,329
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA61,334
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH50,791
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI39,020
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA34,817
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI34,618
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA34,605
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI30,964
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX28,696
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX28,257
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD27,405
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX26,039
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA21,425
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV20,166
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA18,459
Boise City-Nampa, ID17,614
Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ17,486
Rochester, NY17,485

Patents are important because they help protect inventions from being stolen.

San Diego’s ninth-place ranking can largely be attributed to the area’s biotechnology and telecommunications industries, as well as its research universities. According to federal data, the top employers of San Diego inventors included telecom powerhouse Qualcomm, biotech company Illumina and Arena Pharmaceuticals.

“So you’ve got those entities in those industries putting out an awful lot of patents,” said Donn Harms, a San Diego patent attorney and president of the American Patent & Trademark Law Center. Beyond the major companies, he added, the region has a lot of “prolific individual inventors running around.”

Qualcomm employs the San Diego area’s most prolific inventor. Engineer Durga Malladi has 235 patents to his name, according to federal data.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers recently awarded Qualcomm Executive Vice President Roberto Padovani with the 2016 Alexander Graham Bell Medal “for innovations enabling efficient, wideband, wireless access to the Internet, that is central to all third-generation cellular networks.”

Padovani, who has 109 patents to his name, recalled how he and other Qualcomm engineers overcame industry skepticism 20 years ago to develop a new generation of cellular systems based on digital technology.  

“It was a lot of hard work. Day and night in the labs, developing the system,” he said. “But we really knew deep inside ourselves that we had a winner and so the motivation was very, very high.”

Padovani remembered one “eureka” moment when he and his colleagues working on the new technology came up with an important invention that led to a key patent.

“It was late at night in the lab, and it was a group of us,” he said. “We had finished the day’s work, so we were sitting with our legs up on the benches and brainstorming on how could we potentially solve this particular problem. … In a matter of an hour, the whole idea converged and really reached a point where we knew that we had it.”

So how did they celebrate?

“The celebration was always a bottle of champagne, and we kept the corks,” Padovani recalled, laughing at the memory. “We dated them because that was the day of the idea.”

Watch Padovani describe a ‘eureka’ moment that led to a key patent

Chris Young was a reporter at inewsource. To contact inewsource with questions, tips or corrections, email contact@inewsource.org.