IBM announced that it has once again topped the list of annual U.S. patent recipients, receiving 7,355 patents in 2015, marking its 23rdconsecutive year of patent leadership.
IBM’s 2015 patent results represent a diverse range of inventions, including a strong and growing focus on cognitive solutions and the cloud platform as the company positions itself to compete in a new era of computing.
“During IBM’s 23 years atop the patent list, the company’s inventors have received more than 88,000 U.S. patents,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM's chairman, president and CEO, in a statement. “IBM’s investments in R&D continue to shape the future of computing through cognitive computing and the cloud platform that will help our clients drive transformation across multiple industries. IBM's patent leadership demonstrates our unparalleled commitment to the fundamental R&D necessary to drive progress in business and society.”
IBM inventors generated more than 2,000 patents in areas related to cognitive computing and the company’s cloud platform. In the area of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, IBM inventors developed new technologies that can help machines learn, reason, and efficiently process diverse data types while interacting with people in natural and familiar ways. For example, IBM received a patent for a system that helps machines understand emotion. A group of scientists from IBM Research’s China lab patented a system that helps machines interpret emotion-laden words so they can converse with us in more natural ways in Patent US9117446.
IBM's leadership aside, after seven straight years of increases, 2015 is the first year since 2007 to show a downturn in U.S. patent activity, according to IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, a provider of patent databases and information. IFI CLAIMS says there were 299,365 utility patents granted for the calendar year, which is down just less than 1 percent compared to 2014.
"After seven straight years of prolific patent growth, 2015 saw the first sign of de-acceleration,” said Mike Baycroft, CEO of IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, in a statement. “I wouldn’t suggest though that the patent train is losing momentum as many companies continue to crank out more patents than the previous year. That historic seven-year run was remarkable especially when you consider that IBM, Samsung and Canon each generate more than twice as many patents now as they did a decade ago.”
That said, even perennial patent leader IBM was down slightly compared to 2014 -- although it is still number one. No.2 Samsung and No.3 Canon maintain their 2014 slots with small gains over the prior year.
Moreover, big gainers include Qualcomm moving up three places to No.4, Google moving up three places to the No.5 slot, LG Electronics up one slot to No. 8t and Intel jumping back into the Top 10 at No.9. Meanwhile, Toshiba increases counts slightly keeping hold of the No. 6 position.
Yet, IFI analysis shows downward momentum for some major companies including Sony, which was No. 4 in 2014 and is down to No.7 in 2015. Panasonic was No.10 in 2014, but is down to No. 18 in 2015. Microsoft, No.5 in 2014, fell to No.10 in 2015, but beat out Apple (at No.11) by only 18 patents. Apple’s counts decreased 3 percent over 2014, but its ranking went unchanged.
A total of 20 U.S.-based companies appear on the 2015 Top 50, up from 19 in 2014 and 18 in 2013—America’s largest share of that list in more than a decade. Amazon was the most notable gainer among American companies in the Top 50, moving up 24 places from No. 50 in 2014 to No. 26 in 2014.
Several Top 50 companies dropped considerably lower in the rankings, but not solely because they generated fewer patents. One of the reasons for the shifts this year, according to Larry Cady, an IFI CLAIMS senior analyst, is due to where patents are being parked.
“Rather than keeping all corporate patents under a single registration, some companies are choosing to spread their portfolios across multiple entities,” said Cady. “This is why we are seeing such dramatic movement this year with Microsoft and Panasonic, which all started assigning some patents to newly formed holding companies.”
Other companies have spread out their portfolios before including Samsung, HP and AT&T but, according to Cady, this year it is becoming a trend. IFI CLAIMS dutifully manages its standardized assignee name database and tracking process. It maintains the integrity of subsidiaries that are distinct legal entities and treats each separately on the Top 50 ranking.
For instance, 2015 saw three traditional patenting powerhouses begin to change the way they hold their patents. Most of Microsoft’s 2015 patents were granted to “Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC” (1,956) while only 465 were granted to “Microsoft Corp”. Most of Panasonic’s patents were granted to “Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd” (1,474), 458 were granted to “Panasonic Intellectual Property Corp of America” and only 300 were granted to “Panasonic Corp”. And most of Google’s patents were granted to “Google Inc” (2,835) while 360 were granted to “Google Technology Holdings LLC”.