Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy


Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are the principal means for establishing ownership rights to inventions and ideas, and provide a legal foundation by which intangible ideas and creations generate tangible benefits to businesses and employees.

Intellectual property (IP) protection affects commerce throughout the economy by: providing incentives to invent and create; protecting innovators from unauthorized copying; facilitating vertical specialization in technology markets; creating a platform for financial investments in innovation; supporting startup liquidity and growth through mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs; making licensing-based technology business models possible; and, enabling a more efficient market for technology transfer and trading in technology and ideas.

On September 26, 2016, the U.S. Commerce Department released a comprehensive report, “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: 2016 Update,” which found that IP-intensive industries support at least 45 million U.S. jobs and contribute more than $6 trillion dollars to, or 38.2 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). The report, a joint product of the Commerce Department's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), serves as an update to the Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: Industries in Focus report released March 2012.   

While IP is used in virtually every segment of the U.S. economy, the report identifies 81 industries that use patent, copyright, or trademark protections most extensively. These "IP-intensive industries" are found to be the source - directly or indirectly - of 45 million jobs, roughly 30 percent of all the jobs in this country. Some of the most IP-intensive industries include: software publishers, sound recording industries, audio and video equipment manufacturing, cable and other subscription programming, performing arts companies, and radio and television broadcasting.

Chart: Employment in IP-intensive industries, 2014

The report includes several important findings, including:

  •  IP-intensive industries continue to be an important and integral part of the U.S. economy.
  • This report identifies 81 industries (from among 313 total) as IP-intensive. These IP-intensive industries directly accounted for 27.9 million jobs in 2014, up 0.8 million from 2010.
  • Trademark-intensive industries are the largest in number and contribute the most employment with 23.7 million jobs in 2014 (up from 22.6 million in 2010). Copyright-intensive industries supplied 5.6 million jobs (compared to 5.1 million in 2010) followed by patent-intensive industries with 3.9 million jobs (3.8 million in 2010).
  • While jobs in IP-intensive industries increased between 2010 and 2014, non-IP-intensive jobs grew at a slightly faster pace. Consequently, the proportion of total employment in IP-intensive industries declined slightly to 18.2 percent (from 18.8 percent in 2010).
  • In contrast, the value added by IP-intensive industries increased substantially in both total amount and GDP share between 2010 and 2014. IP-intensive industries accounted for $6.6 trillion in value added in 2014, up more than $1.5 trillion (30 percent) from $5.06 trillion in 2010. Accordingly, the share of total U.S. GDP attributable to IP-intensive industries increased from 34.8 percent in 2010 to 38.2 percent in 2014.
  • Revenue specific to the licensing of IP rights totaled $115.2 billion in 2012, with 28 industries deriving revenues from licensing. 
  • Total merchandise exports of IP-intensive industries increased to $842 billion in 2014 from $775 billion in 2010.

View the full report online.