Los Angeles – With its record number of U.S. patents granted in 2011, for the nineteenth consecutive year IBM held the top patent holder spot in the world. However, IBM now has stiff competition in the rankings from Asian companies who are building their own patent portfolios.
As the world’s leading information technology services provider, last year IBM added 6,180 new patents to its portfolio of 34,000 active patents. Since 1911, the New York based company has been granted 70,000 patents by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Its first patent, granted over a century ago, was for technology related to a perforating machine. Since then the company has developed patents for DRAM cells which became the standard for computer memory. IBM is also known for its patented non-computer inventions, such as a laser technique that went on to become the foundation for LASIK eye surgeries.
Microsoft was the only other American company to place in the top 10, dropping to sixth place in the rankings. There were eight Asian companies in the top 10, with South Korea-based Samsung gaining 4,894 new patents in 2011 and Canon with 2,821 new patents. In total, the USPTO issued a record 224,505 new patents in 2011, a two percent increase from the previous year.
In the coming years, IBM may fall out of its comfort zone as the Asian technology giants take the lead. Information for Industry, Inc. (IFI), a patent data research company, said that Samsung’s eight percent patent growth outpaced that of IBM’s increase of five percent. More importantly, Samsung has overshadowed IBM for the past two years in its number of patent applications. The number of pending patent applications is a good indicator of future patent grants.
A patent attorney for IBM said that IBM has been successful at using its patents to manipulate trends in the technology world. For instance, if it wishes to promote certain standards, it may advise other companies that it won’t bring legal action to anyone innovating in that area even if its patents are infringed in the process. As a result, IBM has managed to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation, allowing it to invest about $6 billion in research and development each year. The company reportedly makes approximately $1 billion annually in royalty fees from licensing agreements.