Behind the NSA
Details and images on almost 300 patents filed by the National Security Agency
NSA patents are special: they never expire and they usually aren’t revealed to the public.
Unless someone else files an identical patent application, that is. In that case, the NSA’s ownership is published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
We’ve collected data made available by the USPTO to build a unified database of:
- 200 NSA patents publicly granted to the NSA and published on USPTO
- 78 NSA patents reported by Foreign Policy that didn’t show up when querying USPTO
From game board designs to geo-locating methods; from algorithms that identify topics and summarize large amounts of text, to voice identifier: read on for the most interesting NSA patents.
Note: Silk will be shut down on Dec. 15 2017. After this date, links might be broken and interactive visualizations static. Will fix this as soon as possible
Most Recently Published NSA Patents
NSA Patented Methods for Geolocation
Snowden documents leaked insider details on the NSA surveillance practices, including how the Agency could discover the exact location of an IP address or mobile phone.
Already years before Snowden, in 2005, anyone could enter USPTO’s website and read about NSA’s patent US6947978: Method for geolocating logical network addresses. The inventors, Michael Reifner and Stephen Huffman, in 2000 had filed a patent application for a
Method for geolocating logical network addresses on electronically switched dynamic communications networks, such as the Internet, using the time latency of communications to and from the logical network address to determine its location […]
Patents dealing with “Geolocation”
Play the NSA Board Game
The NSA has a patent for the ornamental design of a game board, by William H. Ryder.
10 NSA Methods for Analyzing and Processing Large Text Data
Many of the NSA patents also involve text analysis. Undoubtedly a pivotal issue for the Agency, given the amount of data it has to collect and organize. There are 10 public NSA patented inventions that mention “text” in their name. These include methods for text sorting and searching, for summarizing large texts and for identifying keywords. One patent also solves the issue of extracting text from color images.
NSA Patents with “Text” in the name
John Fitz: The Most Fruitful (Public) NSA Inventor
John Fitz, Jonathan Cohen and Scott Horst are the inventors behind the biggest number of NSA-owned public patents.
NSA Patents Owned Also by IBM and Three US Universities
IBM co-owns 5 patents with the NSA. Other three Universities also share at least one patent with the Agency.
Number of Patents Grouped by Assignee (other than NSA)
It Took 66 Years Before the NSA was Publicly Granted the Cryptographic System Patent
Top 10 Patents for Number of Days Between Filing and Assignment
These patents who took so long are also the ones that were filed first: two of them back in the 30s and one during World War Two. All three of them were assigned to NSA only in 2000–2001.
Two Inventors Behind NSA Patents Were Residing Outside the US
85% of the inventors were residing in Maryland when their NSA patent were gi. Makes sense, given the Agency’s HQ is in Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. California (3.2%), Washington D.C., Michigan and Virginia are the next up the line. Leslie Newton McAdoo (UK) and Richard Kuehnel (Germany) are the only two inventors that were residing outside of the US when the NSA patent was filed.
Location of Residence of Inventors of NSA Patents
Images from NSA’s Vintage Patent Applications (Filed Half a Century Ago)
Interesting Queries #1: “Network”, 14 Patents
Patents with “Network” in the Title
Interesting Queries #2: “Data”, 13 Patents
Patents with “Data” in the Title
Interactive Table of All Public NSA-Owned Patents (as of August 10th, 2015)
**NOTE**: You can find all the data, together with more interactive charts and articles on the dedicated resource: NSA Patents: A Searchable, Interactive and Fully-Visualizable Database of Patents Filed by the National Security Agency