IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, a producer of global patent databases, analytic solutions and innovative web services, announced its top-50 ranking of global companies awarded the most U.S. utility patents in 2011. IFI uses proprietary algorithms and 50 years' experience analyzing U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) data to compile the de facto annual ranking. Utility patents are the most common patent type and a primary means of protecting intellectual property and technological innovation.
IBM remains in the #1 position, as it has for 19 straight years, with a record 6,180 utility patents, up nearly 5 percent from 2010. A wave of Asian companies fixed on amassing U.S. patent grants, however, continues to grow. Samsung trails second with 4,894, up 8 percent, and Canon, up 11 percent, replaces Microsoft in the #3 slot with 2,821. The next two, Panasonic and Toshiba, each move up one position from where they appeared last year.
According to IFI, the USPTO issued 224,505 utility patents in 2011, an increase of two percent over 2010's record breaking total. Although patent grants are at all-time high, and global interest in building U.S. portfolios continues to mount, there appears to be a slight lessoning of patent growth among individual companies in the top 50. Cisco, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle all saw fewer patent grants than in 2010. In fact, 16 companies in the top 50 produced fewer patents than last year. Whereby, in 2010, only one of the top 50 received fewer than the prior 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," said Mike Baycroft, CEO, IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. "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."
Asian firms now account for 25 or half of the top 50 U.S. patent-grant recipients with U.S. firms capturing 17 slots. Asian countries represented in the top 50 include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In terms of pre-grant applications published in 2011, Asian firms captured 28 of the top 50 positions with the U.S. winning 14.
Patent grants are one important piece of what IFI tracks but, according to Baycroft, looking at published pre-grant applications can help spot future trends, i.e. where patent grants will be in a couple of years. IFI's most recent dive into the application data has identified a few trends worth noting.
Although in terms of patent grants, IBM is the clear winner, if you look below the surface at published applications it becomes evident that this reign may be threatened in the coming years. For the past two years, Samsung's applications eclipsed those of IBM. In 2011, we saw more than 5,600 published applications from Samsung vs. less than 5,000 for IBM. 2010 also saw a similar result.
"Another important factor in evaluating patent trends is to look at portfolio ownership," continued Baycroft. "AT&T, for example, files its patents under multiple assignee names. If we look at its combined portfolio, we would discover more than 1,300 additional new patents in 2011 which would result in a much higher overall ranking. Mergers and acquisitions, divestitures and the direct sale and licensing of patents all contribute to a dynamic IP landscape."
The automotive industry showed strong gains in both patent grants and published applications. Japan automakers Honda and Toyota came in neck-in-neck this year in both grants and applications. Honda edged out Toyota for #20 slot by just three grants. While Ford Motor Company did not make it into the Top 50, its 2011 published applications increased by 40 percent. GM saw a 16 percent increase in patent grants coming in at #18 on the grant rankings but saw 11 percent more applications in 2011 than 2010.
Apple moved up in the rankings to #39 after breaking into the Top 50 at #46 last year. Broadcom's strong showing at #17, Qualcomm's position at #26 and Research in Motion's move into the Top 50 at #40 show that research and development in mobile communications remains strong.