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U.S. patent grants down the most since 2009; China is only nation up

U.S. patent grants were down 3.5% in 2018 over 2017, only the second decline in the past decade, but the largest. 

All nations experienced a decline in grants, except China, which was up 12%.

The reasons for the declines are unclear. They range from

  • Over-patenting in prior years
  • Uncertainty of newly issued patents
  • Lower return on patents
  • Insufficient R&D
  • Growth of businesses in which patents are difficult to secure, e.g. software, algorithms and business methods

According to this year’s report from patent analytics firm IFI Claims:

  • The USPTO issued 308,853 Utility Grant patents in 2018. This represents a 3.5% decline from 2017’s record year.
  • US companies received 46% of these patents. Asian companies received 31% and European companies received 15%.
  • Chinese companies represent only 4% of 2018 US Grants, but their total of 12,589 US patents is an increase of 12% over 2017.

2017 was the 26th year that IBM received the most U.S. patent grants, 9,100.

Google, Samsung and Sony were down 14%, 16% and 21% respectively. Ford Global Technologies and Huawei were both up 14%.

Samsung: Still Largest U.S. Holder

The world’s largest “active” U.S. patent holders and their subsidiaries convey a somewhat different picture. Samsung is first, according the IFI Claims Ultimate Owner ranking, with 61,608 and IBM is third with 34,376. (Canon is second just ahead of IBM.)

The reasons for the significant difference is unclear. They likely have to do with owners’ perceived need to maintain patents they may not use and whether the patents are being used to out-license for revenue or defensively to mitigate risk and maintain market share.

Image source: IFI Claims Patent Service   

Samsung is the leading US patent holder, 24,000 ahead of IBM

Of the top eleven active US patent holders, only four are American companies.

But who gets the best return on their innovation rights is less clear. 

It is no surprise that many foreign companies are significant US patent holders. The leader in active US patents, Samsung, with 63,434, is now more than 24,000 issued invention rights ahead of the American leader, IBM, with 39,436. But US patentees are learning that they do not all need to be top banana to succeed.

What this tells us is that for some companies – especially foreign ones – the quantity of US patents still counts, even if quality appears to be somewhat of a moving target. And besides, big technology companies seldom put their patents to the test. US-Patents

“Depending on the stage of a corporation’s development, intellectual property may be a primary value driver,” according to an article, “The largest US patent portfolios are shrinking,” by Michael Chernoff of MDB Capital in the May IAM magazine.

“This list provides insight as to whether a company’s portfolio has been growing and the impact that those assets appear to be having within their technology verticals.”

Big and Growing

Of the top 100 holders, Alphabet (Google) had one of the highest three-year compound annual (patent) growth rates (CAGR), 16%. They were outdone only by Apple, 19%, Ford, 19% and Taiwan Semiconductor at 22%. Huawei’s CAGR was a 26%, but on a lower base.

Alphabet is #12 and Apple #26 on the top 100 active US patentees list. Microsoft is now four, displacing Panasonic.

Seven entities moved up the ladder and made it onto the US Patent 100 list during the last year: Avago Technologies (36), Kyocera (81), Merck (84), Huawei (86) Caterpillar (97), EMC Corp (98) and Halliburton (100). While most of these new entrants won their place as a result of sustained IP development, some are due to significant acquisitions, as noted in Chernoff’s article. (I understand that Google also, has been an active acquirer.)

Getting vs. Having 

While IBM has received the most patents granted by the USPTO every year for the past twenty years, or so, it does not have the most active US patents. Samsung does, and Canon has inched ahead of IBM.

2015-Patents-Top-Ten-IBM

This is one area where lack of leadership can be strength. IBM allows many patents to lapse once it knows that rivals will not secure them or they are not likely to provide much value. The company also generates many defensive publications that prevent others from securing patents on inventions it may wish to use or build trade secrets (consulting “know-how”) around.

Because IBM is more selective and may have a greater number of quality assets than some of its foreign rivals, the company’s patent portfolio is likely more relevant for out and cross-licensing, and occasional sales, which in past years it has engaged in with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google. Fewer active US patents also means lower maintenance costs.

Image source: http://www.diyphotography.net; www.thenextsiliconvalley.com


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