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Drop in patent awards sees IBM immutable at top spot

Posted: 15 Jan 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share


Patent filing for 2015 has turned out to be a different story as compared to previous years. Last year saw a one per cent decrease in U.S. patent activity for the first time in seven years, with 298,407 utility patents filed. Perennial patent leader IBM, which led the year with 7,355 patents, is down slightly compared with 2014.

A one per cent decrease is significant because the past few years have seen 3-4 per cent growth in patent awards, said IFI Claims Patent Services senior analyst Larry Cady. This year's decrease is likely due to changes in software patentability and a "sour economy" that has companies cutting back on research, Cady said.

This doesn't mean "the patent train is losing momentum," said the CEO of IFI, which compiled the 2015 figures. Companies such as IBM, Samsung and Canon generate twice as many patents as they did a decade ago.

The top 50 patent assignees received a total of 79,052 utility grants, or 26 per cent of all patents assigned in 2015. 42,864 unique assignees received utility grants while six per cent of all patents had no assignee.

The top 10 patent assignees

The top 10 patent assignees

The top three patent awardees from 2014 maintained their spots, while Qualcomm moved up three places to No. 4 and Google jumped up three rungs to No. 5. Sony, Panasonic and Microsoft all dropped by at least three spots in the number of patents awarded. Apple, which came in at No. 11, held the same ranking from 2014 though its patent awards decreased by three per cent.

Amazon Technologies saw significant increase in its issued patents, and moved up 24 places from No. 50 to No. 26. Cady is unsure exactly why Amazon was so successful this year.

Although several top 50 companies dropped considerably lower in the patent ranking, fewer patents isn't the only reason. Rather, companies such as Microsoft and Panasonic have spread their portfolios across multiple entities and assigned patents to newly formed holding companies.

While a company may put patents into a separate company and move that company offshore to avoid corporate taxes, Cady believes the reorganisations are to make licensing easier. Having patents in different divisions and negotiating with all those divisions separately is difficult, he noted, and working with one entity in charge of licensing would streamline the process.

Most of Microsoft's 2015 patents were granted to Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC, while only 465 were granted to Microsoft Corp. Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co. Ltd holds 1,474 patents, while 458 are held by Panasonic Intellectual Property Corp. of America and 300 are held by Panasonic Corp. Google has a similar breakdown, with 2,835 patents granted to Google Inc. and 360 to Google Technology Holdings LLC.

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