Patent Grants Declined Broadly in 2021; only 3 of the Top-10 U.S. Recipients were U.S.-based Companies

Whether it is a quest for quality where “less is more,” diminished U.S. patent reliability or a function of budget cutbacks, leading U.S. companies received significantly fewer U.S. patents in 2021 than in the previous year.

Additionally, of the top-ten recipients, only three are now U.S. based: perennial number one patent grantee, IBM, semiconductor giant Intel and defense contractor Raytheon.

Samsung Electronics Company, Ltd., which holds far more active patents than IBM, was flat with 8517 grants, just 23 behind IBM. Pursing a more cloud-focused approach with the $34 billion 2019 acquisition of open-source leader Red Hat, it may only be a matter of time until IBM relinquishes its 27-year patent crown. If it occurs, it will be a symbolic if not particularly meaningful change.

Two of the biggest declines despite their top ten status were Intel and Raytheon, with drops of 14% and 16% respectively, despite their presence in the top-ten.

“Are patents, especially those that relate to software, simply less reliable than in the past and therefor less necessary?”

Other big decliners in the top 100 include Microsoft (-17%), Amazon (-11%) and Alphabet (-15%). Ford at the 20 position overall, was down 20% in U.S. patent grants. Weakened General Electric was down a whopping 37%. Meta declined 22% and AT&T a surprising 26%.

Are patents, especially those that relate to software, simply less reliable than in the past and therefor less necessary? As many as 63% of U.S. patent grants are software-related, according to an article in IPWatchdog.  

Changing Landscape

It is difficult what to make of this changing landscape, but U.S. patents simply are not what they used to be. They are less reliable in many areas of art, especially software, where many of the most important inventions are being generated.

Companies may be seeing the value of other IP protections, such as trade secrets, and successful businesses have been relying increasinly on their brand power. Threats to companies by both competitors and NPEs have been reduced through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, the courts and are well-covered via defensive aggregators, such as Allied Security Trust, LoT Network and Unified Patents. Once public patent risk mitigator, RPX, now privately held, is said to be up for sale.

The biggest increases in U.S. patents received for 2021: semiconductor specialist Micron Technologies, 17%, and the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), 27%.

In contrast, grants for design patents were mostly up.

For the entire U.S. utility patent top 100 for 2021 courtesy of Harrity LLC, go here.

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