IBM Rules The Patent Roost Again, But Samsung Is A-Coming
January 16, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In an extraordinary run that probably shows a commitment to research and development as much as it shows that companies are building up their patent portfolios as defensive and offensive weaponry, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has awarded a record-breaking 224,505 utility patents to companies and independent inventors from all over the world in 2011. That’s a 2 percent increase over 2010, the former top patent count year.
“Global companies, and especially Asian ones, are collecting U.S patents at a dizzying pace, and now Asian firms hold eight of the top 10 slots in the 2011 ranking,” explained Mike Baycroft, CEO at IFI Claims Patent Services, a consultancy that has full access to the USPTO databases and that now issues the annual top patent rankings. (The USPTO stopped doing it in 2007.) “This isn’t to say that U.S. companies have lost their verve for patent production, as their patent portfolios are also growing. It seems that Asian companies have apparently made it a higher priority.”
For the 19th year in a row, IBM is the top company in the world in terms of the number of patents it was awarded in a year, with 6,180 patents in 2011. But the number two patent receiver in 2011, Samsung Electronics, has applied for more than 5,600 patents in both 2010 and 2011, while IBM did fewer than 5,000 in each of these years. Keep this up, and assuming there is some relationship between patent applications in the pipe at USPTO and the percentage of those eventually awarded, then Samsung, which had 4,894 patents awarded in 2011, could overtake Big Blue. No one else is even close.
You can see a full listing of the 2011 patent count rankings here, which shows the top 50 companies worldwide ranked by their patent counts. Here is how IBM reckons it stacks up against its key competitors, some of whom do not make it into the top 50:
As you can see, about three quarters of the patents that IBM attained in 2011 were related to software and services. An IBM spokesperson tells The Four Hundred that if the Systems and Technology Group, which makes servers, storage, chips, and systems software, were broken out as a separate entity, it would have been granted 2,800 patents in 2011, making it number four on its list–and still ahead of all of Big Blue’s key IT competitors. Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle all had fewer patent grants in 2011 than in the prior year. A total of 16 companies on the top 50 kicked out fewer patents, in fact.
IBM’s patents in 2011 were heavily focused on security, analytics, and cloud computing, according to the spokesperson, who added that the company has over 34,000 active patents in its portfolio right now.
Patents expire and are sold as well as acquired through acquisitions, so it is not trivial for IFI Claims to try to figure out how has what patents among the millions of patent applications and grants in the USPTO databases.