Tag Archives: patent leaders

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

IBM’s Huge Lead in Patents: Under the Microscope

Big Blue may be caught in its image as the perennial patents-received leader, for better or worse.

Obtaining large numbers of patents is often more effective for large companies than securing a handful of really good ones.

U.S. patent count leader IBM, which has boldly dominated patents-received for two decades, has made something of an art in the science of securing IP rights. It has obtained 46,000 U.S. patents since 2000, and more than 6,000 in 2011 alone. Of those, it has allowed about two-thirds to lapse.

aggregate-patents

Until recently, companies like Google and Apple had chosen not to compete in this costly and somewhat cynical numbers game. Winning the patent count race means more to large IT businesses than others. However, the patents a business receives should not be confused with those it holds or is able capitalize on because of the inventions they read on.

Does IBM know something about IP management that other companies do not? Or are cash-rich Google and Apple simply prepared to make bold purchases or settlements when necessary for defensive purposes? Some think that IBM is caught in its own IP image, believing to appear innovative more patents are inevitably better.

When Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, he got soaked. If I recall my Greek Mythology correctly it was Nemesis that attracted Narcissus to the pool in the first place.

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The value of IBM’s volume strategy, which is generally more meaningful to large consumer products companies, such as smart phone makers, may be less readily cost-justified than it once was. Many companies like H-P and AT&T are filing about the same number of patents or even fewer than in the past, concentrating on balancing patent counts, quality and current needs.

IBM vs Key Competitors

In the January IAM magazine (number 57), which will be published next week, the Intangible Investor is devoted to IBM’s out-sized lead in obtaining patents. (They allow most to lapse within about 24 months, suggesting that for some holders it is as important to keep patents out of the hands of the wrong parties as it is to maintain them.) Emphasizing their patent-securing prowess has until now has worked for Big Blue, an IP licensing powerhouse that is seldom sued for infringement.

With its business model now focused on services, and the public smarter about IP rights, IBM is not in need of more patents, but better ones. Of course it depends on how they intend to use them and on how they choose to measure performance.

In “The need to lead: IBM under the microscope,” out next week in IAM, Brody Berman Associates compiled “aggregate totals” for US patents granted to leading IT companies from 2000 to 2011. Over this period IBM (46,292) was granted, 2.5 to four times as many patents as Microsoft (18,120), HP (17,699) and Intel (17,484).”

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IBM is unabashedly proud of its out-sized dominance in  patent counts, besting some innovative competitors by 20-fold. (See the graphic from IFI Claims, above.)

Is Big Blue’s volume approach — which it shares with Intellectual Ventures and several defensive-mined Japanese companies like NEC, Hitachi, Sony and Canon — a relic of patent wars past?

Patent portfolios are a means to support innovation and and facilitate performance, not an end to qualify them.

Illustration sources: Brody Berman Associates; IBM Annual Report


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