Israeli inventors setting new records in patent offices

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Israeli inventors were awarded 525 patents (or 93 U.S. patents per one million residents); only Japan (with 192 per million), Switzerland (165), Taiwan (110) and Sweden (110) were ahead.

Even in absolute numbers of patents (without taking population into consideration), Israel was in 13th place overall, beating countries like Belgium (with 516 U.S. patents), Finland (453), Austria (386), Denmark (334), Spain (187), the former Soviet Union (118) and Argentina (32).

The hypotheses explaining this achievement are many: Perhaps it derives from skills or genetic traits that promoted Jewish survival despite adversity over the millennia, mental dexterity from Talmud study or risk-taking and even behavior promoted by young people's military experience.

In any case, the golden wave of aliyah (immigration to Israel) from the former Soviet Union over the past decade has undoubtedly added punch to these statistics. Many patents have been filed in recent years by new-immigrant inventors connected to the Industry and Trade Ministry's "incubator" program, which has helped people with good ideas but little money and a minimum of business experience to turn their innovations into salable products.

Since the program began, hundreds of start-up businesses have been launched and many of them have developed into actual companies.

A total of 120,000 patent applications have been filed here since the founding of the state, 50,000 of them during the past 14 years (compared to 5.8 million actually registered over the past two centuries in the United States). Not surprisingly, many of the most recent patents are in computer software, the Internet and other high-tech areas.

The incubator program, coordinated by Rina Pridor at the Industry and Trade Ministry, has been so successful that it has become a leading model in the world, and government representatives have come from abroad to see how it works.

One of the main reasons for its success is that the innovators, mostly from abroad, are matched with local business people and other experts who serve as project managers, using their experience in getting projects off the ground here. The role of inventors from the former Soviet Union is so great that Ben-David recently hired an immigrant from Ukraine, Ludmilla Eidis, who shares their language and culture.

Many young Israeli entrepreneurs have ideas they are certain will turn them into millionaires, and some succeed in setting up a business.

Judging by the number of patents Israelis are getting, some no doubt will realize their dreams of becoming a millionaire.