U.S. Patent Grants Dip For The First Time In 7 Years To 298K, IBM Remains On Top

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As patent reforms continue to move slowly through the legislative system, the number of patents being awarded has declined for the first time in seven years.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark office issued 298,407 utility patents in 2014, according to a new report from IFI Claims. As a point of comparison, last year the research group tracked 300,678 utility patent grants. IBM remains the leader with the most patents filed, although its numbers are also down: 7,355 patents in the 2015 table versus 7,534 a year ago.

Despite the declines, the numbers are down by only less than one percent versus a year ago. In other words, if we are seeing a less heated view of patents and their effect on business (or alternately, how they may negatively impact innovation), it’s still a minor one.

“After seven straight years of prolific patent growth, 2015 saw the first sign of de- acceleration,” said Mike Baycroft, CEO, IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, in a statement. “I wouldn’t suggest though that the patent train is losing momentum as many companies continue to crank out more patents than the previous year. That historic seven-year run was remarkable especially when you consider that IBM, Samsung and Canon each generate more than twice as many patents now as they did a decade ago.”

Indeed, when it comes to potential patents, the numbers are actually up. Applications for the 2015 tables are now at 381,424. The 2014 tables noted 379,453 patent applications.

As you would expect, the top rankings in the list are dominated by tech companies. The top 10, in fact, are all tech companies:

RANK

Assignee

CC

Count

1

International Business Machines Corp

US

7355

2

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd

KR

5072

3

Canon KK

JP

4134

4

Qualcomm Inc

US

2900

5

Google Inc

US

2835

6

Toshiba Corp

JP

2627

7

Sony Corp

JP

2455

8

LG Electronics Inc

KR

2242

9

Intel Corp

US

2048

10

Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC

US

1956

 

Apple continued to hold on to number 11 with 1,938 patents filed (although down 3% on a year ago). Others advancing up the table included Qualcomm and Google both going up three places and Intel back into the top 10 after a year away, a jump of seven places.

What IFI’s larger top-50 table, embedded below, doesn’t really draw out are whether there are any trends around what kind of patents are being granted — whether, for example, we are seeing a rise in autonomous vehicle-related patents or declines in patents that are related to mobile phones. In a way, this could be a more accurate marker of where innovation is focused at the moment.

What the IFI does point out are the top 10 classifications for patents (which the USPTO is standardizing on the international cooperative patent classification system):

CPC 2015 Utility Grants CPC Definition
G06F 43,652 Computers – Electrical Digital Data Processing
H04L 28,117 Telecommunications – Transmission of Digital Information
H01L 25,409 Semiconductors
Y10T 25,108 Metal Working and Hardware – fasteners and connectors
H04N 16,602 Television and Video – Pictorial Communication
H04W 16,529 Wireless Communication Networks
A61K 12,197 Pharmaceuticals
A61B 11,921 Medical Diagnostics
G06Q 8,828 Business Methods Data Processing
G01N 8,501 Testing Instruments – Investigating or analyzing materials by determining their chemical of physical properties.

 

It notes that grants in the business methods patent class declined to 8,828 from 11,690 in 2014.  IFI cites the 2014 Supreme Court decision in the Alice Corp. vs. CLS Bank International, which tightened the rules on which business methods are patentable. “The impact of the decision can be seen in the drop in G06Q patents,” it writes. This is a good sign for those who are hoping for more legal precedent and how it impacts patent reform in other areas.

IBM in a separate release about its patent leadership points out that its patents covered various areas like AI, machine learning and natural language processing and cloud platform technology — all areas of the market where it’s looking to do more in general.

Some other notable details: Amazon made one of the more impressive jumps, from number 50 to number 26 (with 1,136 patents) — another sign of how the company has tried to shift away from its e-commerce roots into a whole different range of businesses from cloud computing to mobile services and new hardware.

Another trend IFI has drawn out involves how some larger companies are spreading their patents across multiple entities. In fact, the “Microsoft Technology Licensing” that appears as number-10 in the list below was ranked 979th a year ago. “Microsoft Corp.” meanwhile, which was ranked fifth last year, this year took only 458 patents.

Similarly, “Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd” at number 18 was 971st a year ago. The vast majority of Google’s patents are going to “Google Inc.” but there is another entity called “Google Technology Holdings LLC”. It’s not clear exactly why these are now getting split, whether for litigation or other purposes. (We’re going to try to find out and update this with an explanation.)

Top 50 list below.

RANK Grants Assignee Name Country
1 7355 International Business Machines Corp United States
2 5072 Samsung Electronics Co Ltd Korea
3 4134 Canon KK Japan
4 2900 Qualcomm Inc United States
5 2835 Google Inc United States
6 2627 Toshiba Corp Japan
7 2455 Sony Corp Japan
8 2242 LG Electronics Inc Korea
9 2048 Intel Corp United States
10 1956 Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC United States
11 1938 Apple Inc United States
12 1838 Samsung Display Co Ltd Korea
13 1774 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Taiwan
14 1757 General Electric Co United States
15 1627 Ricoh Co Ltd Japan
16 1620 Seiko Epson Corp Japan
17 1581 Toyota Motor Corp Japan
18 1474 Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd Japan
19 1467 Fujitsu Ltd Japan
20 1407 Telefonaktiebolaget L M Ericsson Sweden
21 1315 GM Global Technology Operations LLC United States
22 1304 Hewlett Packard Development Co LP United States
23 1187 Brother Kogyo KK Japan
24 1185 Ford Global Technologies LLC United States
25 1142 Robert Bosch GmbH Germany
26 1136 Amazon Technologies Inc United States
27 1129 Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co Ltd Japan
28 1085 Broadcom Corp United States
29 1083 Hon Hai Precision IndUnited Statestry Co Ltd Taiwan
30 1071 BlackBerry Ltd Canada
31 1031 Honda Motor Co Ltd Japan
32 1011 Siemens AG Germany
33 997 Sharp KK Japan
34 976 Boeing Co United States
35 961 Micron Technology Inc United States
36 960 Cisco Technology Inc United States
37 923 Koninklijke Philips NV Netherlands
38 896 Mitsubishi Electric Corp Japan
39 891 SK Hynix Inc Korea
40 885 AT&T Intellectual Property I LP United States
41 809 Xerox Corp United States
41 809 Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute Korea
43 808 Texas Instruments Inc United States
44 800 Huawei Technologies Co Ltd China
45 792 NEC Corp Japan
46 778 Denso Corp Japan
47 747 FUJIFILM Corp Japan
48 746 Honeywell International Inc United States
49 745 Covidien LP United States
50 744 Hyundai Motor Co Korea