In the yearly count of patents granted in the United States, the corporate front-runner for 2012 is scarcely a surprise.
IBM was granted more patents in 2012 than any other company, the 20th consecutive year in the top spot, according to the annual tally by IFI Claims Patent Services, published on Thursday.
The technology giant is flush these days, so its patent pre-eminence in recent years seems routine. What is more impressive is that the winning streak was just under way when IBM went into a tailspin in the early 1990s. Despite sharp cutbacks elsewhere in the company, IBM kept investing in its research engine.
Google and Apple, rivals in the smartphone patent wars, were the big movers. Google posted a 170 per cent jump in patents granted, with 1,151 patents. In 2012, Google ranked 21st in the corporate patent sweepstakes. A year earlier, it had placed 65th.
Last year, Apple was awarded 1,236 patents, or 68 per cent more than in 2011. With that performance, Apple’s rank jumped to 22nd, up from 39th in 2011.
“Google and Apple are clearly taking intellectual property very seriously, and playing to win,” said Mike Baycroft, chief executive of IFI, a patent research firm.
But another Apple rival, Samsung Electronics, was granted 5,081 patents, second only to IBM. The Google patent count, Baycroft said, may have benefited last year from some pending patent filings it picked up with its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a purchase completed in late May last year. Patents are typically granted two to four years after the applications are filed. But most of the Google patent activity, Baycroft said, was probably from the search giant’s scientists and engineers.
IBM collected 6,478 patents last year. IBM’s patent asset generates an estimated $1 billion a year in licence revenue. But it also a shield against patent litigation by competitors and patent-holding firms.
Michael Karasick, a vice president and computer scientist at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., joined the company in 1988, just as the IBM patent strategy was starting. One thing that has changed over the years, Karasick said, was the proliferation of “mixed-skill teams” of researchers in fields like medicine, public health, and oil and gas exploration.