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Drops (& gains) in patent grants to top holders reflect changing times

Every picture tells a story. So does each increase or decrease in the number of U.S. patents major businesses receive over the prior year.

The recently published IPO Top 300 patent recipients for 2016 encourages scrutiny. While overall grants were up 1.6% over 2015, there were several unexpected swings, and a number of notable gainers and losers.

Only four of the top ten U.S. patent recipients in 2016 were foreign-based companies, down from 2011, when eight out of the top ten recipients were non-U.S. It is difficult to tell if that change reflects more filing on the part of U.S. companies or less interest on the part of foreign filers. Probably, the latter.

Those receiving fewer patents in 2016 over 2015 include Toshiba, -33.3%, GM Global Technology, -14.8%, Johnson & Johnson, -14.1%. Broadcom, -24.3%, Blackberry, -28.1%, and DuPont, -35.5%. ABB Ltd., down 142%, was still granted 317 patents. NXP Semiconductor, which was acquired by Qualcomm in the fourth quarter, was down 70.3% in U.S. patents received.

Multiple Factors

Depending on the company and industry the grant losses can be attributed to several factors, including reduced R&D budgets; a lower regard for the value of patents due to changes in the law and decisions in the courts; reduced concern over patent counts; and the desire on the part of more companies to obtain fewer, better quality patents.

“It is difficult to attribute reasons or trends as to why a company may have had more or less patents issued from one year to the next,” Brian Hinman, Chief IP Officer for Philips told IP CloseUp. “Patents issuing in 2015 may still be reflecting the impact of the patent application filing surge just prior to enactment of the AIA hence the decline in 2016.  

“We also may be seeing the impact of more companies deciding to maintain their innovation as trade secrets especially in light of enactment of the DTSA [Defend Trade Secrets Act].”

It should be noted that some companies choose to spread their patent grants among multiple entities, obscuring the actual number received. Companies which had been actively filing software and business method patents in previous years, are likely to be doing less of that, now that those types of patents are more difficult to obtain and uphold.

Notable Increases

On the upside, among the top 21 recipients, Intel was up 30.1%, Taiwan Semiconductor & Manufacturing, 28.6% and Ford Global Technologies, 27.6%.  Amazon, 15th on the overall patent recipient list for 2016 with 1,662 grants, was up 46.3 % over 2015. This may reflect a new seriousness about entering or acquiring other businesses.

Other notable gainers include Nokia, up 73.8%, GlobalFoundries, up 136.5% and Hyundai Motor Co., up 39.1%. (GlobalFoundries acquired IBM Microelectronics in 2015.)

Among financial institutions, Bank of America was up 20.8%, having received 279 patents.  Perennial annual U.S. patent leader IBM, was up 7.8%, receiving 8,023 patents, the most of any company.

For the complete list of top 300 patent recipients, go here 

For an interactive list of top 50 assignees, go here.

Image source: statista.com; wikepedia.com; public.tableau.com


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