IBM tops frenzied US patent game

Liam Tung | Jan 11, 2011 6:10 AM
More in 2010 than in first 50 years of Big Blue.

Utility patents in the US were granted at a frenzied pace in 2010, with the US Patent and Trademark Office granting 219,614 and smashing last year's total by 30 percent.

The office's acceleration of patent grants helped push US technology firms back to global dominance, securing 50.3 per cent of all patents issued last year compared to 49 percent in 2009.

IBM retained its 18-year title as the most successful US patent applicant having been granted 5,896 patents in 2010, according to IFI Claims' Patent Intelligence and Technology Report.

Signaling the pace of the system in today's technology sector, IBM noted that it took its inventors over 50 years to receive the same number of patents after the company was established in 1911.

"Patents, and the inventions they represent, reflect the commitment to innovation that has differentiated IBM and IBMers for a century," said Kevin Reardon, general manager of intellectual property for IBM.

While the top 100 patent holders included carriers, industrial manufacturers and weapons suppliers, the top 10 list was made up entirely of household technology brands, many of which squared off against each other and smaller rivals over intellectual property infringements.

Second spot was in the list was held by Samsung with 4,551 registered patents, followed by Microsoft with 3,094. Others that secured no fewer than 1,488 patents last year included Panasonic, Toshiba, Sony, Intel, LG and Hewlett Packard.

Apple and Google, although widely viewed as leaders in innovation, were well down the list of top patent recipients, ranking 46th and 101st in terms of the number of patents granted respectively.

However, Apple, which secured 563 patents last year had almost doubled its 2009 count, according to IFI Claims' report.

Oracle, which continues to wage war with Google over its Android mobile operating system, was placed at 43rd spot with 646 patents that included those developed by Sun Microsystems.

The acceleration of US patent grants came as fears in the US grew over China's ambitious plans to boost both "invention" and "utility" patents to levels far higher than currently in the US.

Some within the technology development sector believed the patent system needed to be overhauled because rather than safeguarding innovation, they argued it tended to stifle it, in particular for small and medium businesses.

Over 500 Australian developers associated with various open source projects petitioned Australia's Innovation Minister, Kim Carr, last year to have software patents abolished from the nation's intellectual property regime.