Patent News | "Rock River Valley sets record for patents in 2011"

By: Alex Gary
Category: Patent News

ROCKFORD — PBC Linear, like most businesses, was hit hard by the Great Recession, with orders dropping sharply for the Roscoe company that makes linear bearings, linear actuators, profile rails and cam rollers.

Its leaders found themselves facing a delicate choice.

“When you are in a downturn, companies can hunker down and hope their cash reserves carry them through or try to find new customers and new markets,” said Jonathan Schroeder. “Our philosophy is, you really need to innovate and develop new products.”

PBC Linear, known as Pacific Bearing Co. in the local market, focused on research and development, and the efforts began to pay off in 2011.

Between 1991 and 2009, the company received six utility patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It hadn’t applied for one since 2005.

In 2008, the company filed four applications, then nine in 2009, five in 2010 and three in 2011. In 2011, the patent office granted four to PBC Linear, including one for an “anti-backlash nut and lead screw assembly.”
“That’s a new business segment for us,” said Schroeder, the company’s business development manager. PBC Linear’s workforce fell as low as 120 during the recession and has rebounded to more than 150.
Fortunately for the Rock River Valley economy, PBC Linear wasn’t alone in deciding that innovation was the best way to survive the recession. The number of patents won by local researchers, engineers and inventors set records in 2011.

Residents in Boone, Ogle and Winnebago counties were awarded 193 patents in 2011, according to the U.S. Patent Office. The previous high recorded by the Register Star was 165 in 1999, according to a Register Star database dating to 1996.

“Increasing patents means that new products are under way. New products are key to what fuels organic growth at a company,” said Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council. “Keeping our local companies relevant and modern to their competitors will bode well for our local companies’ results and our potential employment.”

The Register Star began tracking patents after several manufacturers — and their research departments — moved out of town. Patent data from 2005 showed evidence of the exodus. The number of patents issued in Boone, Ogle and Winnebago counties that year fell to 107, and again in 2009, when there were just 109 awarded to local inventors. Patent awards turned upward in 2010, climbing to 145 before soaring in 2011.
Patents typically take two to four years to be awarded so the patents won last year reflect the amount of critical research going on in 2007, 2008 and 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession.