Research Article

Systems and Synthetic Biology

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 209-220

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The development of synthetic biology: a patent analysis

  • Davy van DorenAffiliated withFraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) Email author 
  • , Stefan KoenigsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Technology Design and Development, University of Bremen
  • , Thomas ReissAffiliated withFraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI)


In the past decades, synthetic biology has gained interest regarding research and development efforts within the biotechnology domain. However, it is unclear to what extent synthetic biology has matured already into being commercially exploitable. By means of a patent analysis, this study shows that there is an increasing trend regarding synthetic biology related patent applications. The majority of retrieved patents relates to innovations facilitating the realisation of synthetic biology through improved understanding of biological systems. In addition, there is increased activity concerning the development of synthetic biology based applications. When looking at potential application areas, the majority of synthetic biology patents seems most relevant for the medical, energy and industrial sector. Furthermore, the analysis shows that most activity has been carried out by the USA, with Japan and a number of European countries considerably trailing behind. In addition, both universities and companies are major patent applicant actor types. The results presented here form a starting point for follow-up studies concerning the identification of drivers explaining the observed patent application trends in synthetic biology.


Synthetic biology Patent analysis Emerging technologies Innovation dynamics