IBM Remains Atop the Patent List

Feb. 10, 2009
But U.S. slips in global patent dominance.

Some things don't change -- and haven't in a long time. For the 16th consecutive year, high-tech giant IBM Corp. has nabbed the top spot for the number of patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Not only that, but with 4,186 patents granted in 2008, it also became the first organization to break the 4,000 patent barrier, according to IFI Patent Intelligence, which analyzed USPTO data.

Even as the patent number demonstrates the significance the company places on its intellectual property, IBM announced that it would increase by 50% the number of technical inventions it publishes annually rather than seek patent protection. That would make the inventions freely available.

IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center, pictured here, is home to a project whose goal is developing an empirical measure of patent quality. "Our goal is to help stimulate iinnovation as public investments in large infrastructure projects are being planned to boost global economies," explains John Kelley, senior vice president and director of IBM Research.
(country of origin)
No. of Patents
1. IBM (U.S.) 4,186
2. Samsung (South Korea) 3,515
3. Canon (Japan) 2,114
4. Microsoft (U.S.) 2,030
5. Intel (U.S.) 1,776
6. Matsushita (Japan) 1,745
7. Toshiba (Japan) 1,609
8. Fujitsu (Japan) 1,494
9. Sony (Japan) 1,485
10. Hewlett-Packard (U.S.) 1,424
Source: IFI Patent Intelligence
While IBM grows its number of patents, the U.S. share of patents is slipping. U.S. companies garnered just 49% of U.S. patents granted in 2008, down from 50% in 2007, according to IFI analysis. And U.S. firms hold just four of the top 10 slots and 12 of the top 35.

Don't confuse quantity with quality, says Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI Patent Intelligence. "What's clear is that many of the world's largest companies are placing a higher priority on protecting their intellectual property. This trend is occurring both here in the U.S. and abroad, especially in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and other countries in Europe," she says.

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About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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