Financial Innovation in the 21st Century: Evidence from U.S. Patents


Josh Lerner, Amit Seru, Nicholas Short, and Yuan Sun. Working Paper. “Financial Innovation in the 21st Century: Evidence from U.S. Patents”.
Article2.89 MB


We develop a unique dataset of 24 thousand U.S. finance patents granted over last two decades to explore the evolution and production of financial innovation. We use machine learning to identify the financial patents and extensively audit the results to ensure their reasonableness. We find that patented financial innovation is substantial and economically important, with the number of annual grants expanding from a few dozen in the 1990s to over 2000 in the 2010s. The subject matter of financial patents has changed, consistent with the industry’s shift in revenue and value- added towards household investors and borrowers. The surge in financial patenting was driven by information technology firms and others outside of financial sector, which collectively accounted for 69% of the awards. The location of innovation has shifted, with banks moving this activity from regions with tight financial regulation to more permissive ones. High-tech regions have attracted financial innovation by payments, IT, and other non-financial firms. Turning to the source of these ideas, while academic knowledge remained associated with more valuable patents, citations in finance patents to academic papers, especially in those by banks, fell sharply.

Last updated on 09/03/2021