Last week, the Cleantech Group and Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C. co-released their 2013 Clean Energy Patent Growth Index, which tracks clean energy patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The index is meant to depict a trajectory of innovative activity in the clean energy sector. Among its highlights: 

  • Solar, with 965 patents, was the No. 1 technology, overtaking fuel cells. And each year, the technology commands a greater share of patent activity:

Image credit: Clean Energy Patent Growth Index.

  • The United States was, by far, the No. 1 awarded country, with 556 of those 965 patents (56%).
  • The United States' proportion of solar patents (56%) outsized its proportion of non-solar clean energy patents (45% ex-solar).
  • Japan, projected to be 2014's No. 2 solar market, came in second with 107 patents (17%) awarded. 
  • China, 2014's No. 1 projected solar market, amassed just 18 patents in 5th place. 
  • Germany, to which the solar industry owes much for its rate of advancement, placed 4th.

Potential home-court advantage aside, the numbers indicate the U.S. is and will continue to be the hub for solar innovation, which is why SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) and First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) warrant consideration for any solar investor. SunPower, which touts the highest-efficiency commercially available panels has long demonstrated its R&D prowess. In 2013, SunPower took home second solar prize with 28 patents awarded (compared to 10 for First Solar). 

But what's more impressive is where SunPower stacks up against non-solar giants. The solar-only, San Jose-company actually makes the top 25 of all clean energy patents issued since 2002-a list that includes the likes of GM, Toyota, GE, and Siemens

Image credit: Clean Energy Patent Growth Index.

Innovation is at the core of what SunPower does. The company has a nearly three-decade track record in the industry and has long been hailed as the efficiency leader. As Apple reminded Blackberry, in addition to countless other but no less fitting examples, if you're not innovating, you're not winning. And if you're not winning, you're losing.