Governments and Patents in the Space Economy


The space economy, once the exclusive domain of governments, is increasingly becoming the playground for private companies and start-ups. As the space industry rapidly evolves, patents – an important marker of technological innovation – are playing a significant role. They signify a shift in the dynamics of power, intellectual property rights, and competition.

Governments worldwide view patents as an essential element in the context of the space economy for several reasons, which are described below:

Patents as Indicators of Innovation

Patents are commonly seen as a leading indicator of the pace and direction of technological change. Governments closely watch patenting activities in the space sector to gauge the level of innovation. The data from patent filings provide a measure of who is innovating, the nature of these innovations, and where the activity is taking place.

Patents as Tools for National Security

Given the dual-use nature of many space technologies, patents have security implications. Governments monitor patent activity in the space sector not only to protect their own national security interests but also to ensure compliance with international regulations regarding the non-proliferation of certain technologies.

Patents as Instruments for Economic Development

Patents in the space sector can lead to economic growth by creating new industries, jobs, and revenue streams. They promote economic development by fostering innovation and providing incentives for R&D activities. Governments often encourage patenting in the space sector as a means of stimulating economic development and maintaining a competitive edge in the global market.

Patents as Policy Guidance

When it comes to assessing innovation in the space economy, patents serve as valuable input into policy for government agencies. Here’s how they do it:

Analyzing Patent Trends

Government agencies use patent data to analyze trends in space innovation. They look at the number of space-related patents filed and granted, the organizations or individuals filing these patents, and the technologies these patents cover. This analysis helps them understand which areas of space technology are experiencing the most innovation, who is leading these areas, and where there might be opportunities for future innovation.

Identifying Key Players

Patents can help identify key players in the space economy. This includes both private companies and public institutions. Understanding who holds key patents can inform policy decisions, help identify potential partners for collaboration, or signal where competitive threats may be emerging.

Assessing Technological Progress

The details provided in patent applications can reveal advancements in specific areas like propulsion, navigation, communication, and satellite technology, among others. By analyzing these details, governments can track technological progress in the space sector.

Guiding Research and Development

Governments can use patent data to guide their own R&D efforts. Areas with a lot of patent activity might be becoming crowded, suggesting the need for diversification. Conversely, areas with fewer patents might represent opportunities for new development.

Informing Policy and Regulations

Understanding the landscape of patented technologies can help governments shape policy and regulations. If a particular technology is covered by a large number of patents, it might be an area that needs more regulation to prevent monopolies and promote competition.

Measuring Economic Impact

Patents can be used to measure the economic impact of the space industry. This can include estimating the value of patented technologies, the number of jobs created by companies holding space-related patents, and the potential for future economic growth based on patent trends.

Example: Patents in Space (Government of Canada 2015)

Expand for Executive Summary


Measuring innovation is a challenging task. However, patent data is a good starting point to address this challenge as it provides important information on the specific technical knowledge embedded within inventions. This report, a collaborative effort by the CSA and CIO, shines a light onto patent activity in the Canadian space sector.

In broad terms, this report is the culmination of a complete literature review, a compilation of organization specific data from the CA’s annual State of the Canadian Space Sector survey and a robust patent search strategy.

This report shows that global patent filing in the space sector has consistently grown over the last 40 years, with the number of annual patented inventions now more than 20 times greater than in 1978, rising from 320 to 6,419. The report also reveals that Canada has more influence internationally than its size would suggest, potentially signalling a technological advantage for its space sector.

This report highlights the importance of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) for innovation in the Canadian space sector. SMEs account for 83% of organizations with patented inventions and are responsible for 83% of all patented inventions in the sector.

SMEs are also responsible for 30% of the revenue and 30% of the expenditures spent on research and development (R&D). Looking at value-chain segments, between 2000 and 2015, Canadian patent activity in the downstream value chain component has increased from 23% to 60% and follows the Canadian and international shift towards private sector space activity and revenues.

Using the CA’s annual space survey data of space sector organizations in combination with patent data, this report shows multiple positive economic relationships.

These relationships include: a relationship between the number of R&D employees per organization and annual patented inventions, a relationship between revenue and R&D expenditures, a relationship between revenue and R&D employees, a relationship between R&D expenditures and R&D emplovees and a relationship between R&D expenditures and annual patent inventions.

This report uses visualizations to present data in a comprehensive fashion.

Landscape maps are one of these visualizations and are used to help identify keywords, International Patent Classification codes and key technologies being developed in the Canadian space sector. In this report, these maps are broken down by value-chain segment and sector of activity within the Canadian space sector.

Overall, this report helps to describe the areas of activity and key fields of research found in the Canadian space sector. The information contained in this report can be used as a launching pad to pursue more in-depth research into targeted space technologies.

Patents are Foundational

Patents are an integral part of the space economy. They serve as important markers of technological innovation, economic development, and national security. By effectively leveraging patent data, government agencies can better understand the evolving landscape of the space economy, inform policy decisions, and guide future investment in space-related R&D.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email