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Volume 20, Number 2 -- January 17, 2011

U.S. Regains Top Global Patent Holder Title, IBM Leads the Pack

Published: January 17, 2011

by Jenny Thomas

The counts on the number of patents granted in 2010 have been released, and a sluggish U.S. economy appears to have had no effect on innovation. According to the annual Patent Intelligence & Technology Report released by IFI Claims Patent Services, patent grants in 2010 reached an all-time high of 219,614 utility patents in 2010, up 31 percent from 2009 and the most significant annual increase on record. The old record was set in 2006 when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a total of 173,772 patents.

It has been two years since American-headquartered companies have led the patent grant totals. The U.S. captured 50.3 percent of all U.S. utility patents in 2010, with the balance going to foreign companies. In 2009, American firms received less than a majority at 49 percent.

Some of the credit for regaining the top global patent holder goes to IBM. But the big news from IBM was not just that it retained its number one position on the patent tally, a position Big Blue has held for 18 consecutive years. In 2010, IBM became the first company to be granted more than 5,000 U.S. patents in a single year. IBM racked up 5,896 patents, a gain of 20 percent from 4,914 patents in 2009.

IBM received its first patent on July 25, 1911 for an invention related to punch card tabulation. Today, 100 years later, IBM's patents cover technology relating to analytics, core computing and software technologies, and smart utility, traffic, and healthcare systems. More than 7,000 IBM inventors residing in 46 different U.S. states and 29 countries contributed to Big Blue's record-breaking 2010 patent tally. Inventors outside the U.S. generated more than 22 percent of the company's patent count in 2010, a 27 percent increase over international inventor contributions compared to three years ago.

IBM is not the only company posting big numbers in patents granted. The top eight on the annual list held the same positions as 2009, and all of them posted gains. Samsung Electronics came in second with 4,551, up 26 percent, and Microsoft held on to third with 3,094, up 6.5 percent. In fact, only one of the companies listed in the top 50 patent holders of 2010 did not come in with a higher total than the previous year. Memory chip supplier Micron Technology, ranked at number 23, was issued 917 patents in 2010, a slide from the 966 patents it held in 2009.

The IFI began reporting on patent counts in 2006 after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stopped releasing the data on individual companies. The IFI analyzes data to create an annual ranking of U.S. utility patent recipients. Utility patents are the most common patent type, primarily granted to protect intellectual property and technological innovation. You can see IFI's 2010 top 50 patent assignees list here.

According to the IFI analysis, it is important to note that the increase in patents granted in 2010 could partially be the result of the USPTO gaining ground on the number of unexamined patent applications.

"Another important factor is the stepped up effort of the USPTO to improve turnaround times and its five-year strategic plan to increase efficiencies and reduce pendency," said Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI Claims Patent Services. "The bottom line: there is still a backlog of patents pending but the number of grants continues to grow even after a period of economic downturn."


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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Victor Rozek,
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Reader Feedback on The Carrot: i5/OS V5R4 Gets Execution Stay Until May . . . U.S. Regains Top Global Patent Holder Title, IBM Leads the Pack . . . Humans $4,600, Watson $4,400 in Jeopardy! Beta Test Round . . . Rimini Street Says Third Party Support Biz Is Booming . . . Rising Spending Tide Finally Raises the SAP Boat . . .

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