IBM just wrapped up its 17th consecutive year as the company with the most patents, and now is ready to help customers handle their intellectual property.
IBM officials said Jan. 12 that they are now going to be giving customers access to Big Blue's IP and patent processes and in-house portfolio management software, a move that was prompted by the growing interest over the past few years among customers looking for advice.
"We've been seeing in recent years that our customers are increasingly coming to us and asking us how they can manage their own patent portfolio," Manny Schecter, IBM's chief patent counsel, said in an interview. "At first we were a little hesitant to show other people what we do."
However, eventually IBM officials felt that not only could it be good for their customers, but also for their own company.
"If it benefits the customers, maybe they'll want to come back and do more business with us," Schecter said.
IBM has more than 30,000 patents-with 4,914 of those coming in 2009-and has developed software and expertise to analyze and manage its portfolio. That is what companies can now tap into.
Schecter said that expertise covers every aspect in the life cycle of an invention, from when a researcher first tells the company what he or she has to evaluating the invention, deciding whether to apply for a patent, in what countries to file the application, maintaining the patent and licensing the IP. IBM generates about $1 billion a year through licensing, he said.
IBM also will help customers identify potential invention opportunity areas, build an IP portfolio and establish a culture of innovation.
Schecter said he expects the range of customer needs to vary widely, from those who just need a little advice on how to manage the patents they have to others who need to file their first application. And not every customer will need to license the software, he said.
However, while IBM will give customers advice on how to manage the patent process, the company won't give legal advice or evaluate a customer's technology.
"We can show them how we do it, but it's up to them to decide [on their own products]," Schecter said.
He said the increased interest in patents probably comes from a few areas, including an increased awareness and the publicity surrounding various patent lawsuits. CEOs also are becoming more interested in innovation within their own companies, and IBM's success in the IP game has become well-known, according to Schecter.
IBM's 4,914 patents in 2009 were more than a 1,000 more than Samsung's 3,611, and outpaced all other technology giants, including Microsoft, which had 2,906, Intel (1,537) and HP (1,273).