by Steve Reiss (email@example.com)
The iconic individual inventor plays a much smaller role today than he once did. 19th century America was a time of flourishing individual invention. Individual inventors got the vast majority of patents.
Toward the end of the century, the picture began to change
Increasingly, patent rights were sold before the patent was issued, a sign that corporate support was needed at an earlier stage.
The notion of the inventor as a genius working along in his shop became increasingly anachronistic as the complexity of technology required numerous machinists, chemists, or other skilled workers to contribute to the developments of ever more sophisticated and complicated machines, compounds, and processes. Collective research and development had become the source of most inventions long before the courts and the public finally realized it.
By 2003 individual inventors accounted for only about 12% of patents.
Additionally, most of the recent inventions made by individuals are hardly breakthrough technologies.
The most prolific patentee in US history is Donald Weder (1336 patents). At one point, Weder was listed as holding 984 utility patents and 413 design patents for a total of 1397 US patents. Weder is still actively inventing, so his ultimate number of patents is yet to be known. His most recent patent was issued on April, 2017. He beat out Thomas Edison (1336 to 1093) in 2002.
Weder's contribution to society? Flower pots, bundling flowers, and other inventions relevant to florists.
Most individual inventors appear to work in mature, but not cutting-edge technologies.
Bessen and Meurer, Patent Failure (2008), pp. 168-171 ("Individual Inventors")