Patent Activity Remains Strong Despite Pandemic

IFI CLAIMS Patent Services recently shared its lists of the world's patent leaders.

U.S. patent grants ticked downward only slightly in 2020 from the prior year, despite the global pandemic, according IFI U.S. Top 50 patent recipients according to the organization which used 2020 United States Patent and Trademark Office data to create the IFI U.S. Top 50.

IFI also compiled the annual IFI Global 250 which looks across the world’s major patent authorities to reveal the top holders of active patent assets.

Patent activity, says IFI, is a valuable financial indicator for researchers, analysts, and investors who seek insight into companies’ R&D productivity and clues to IP strategy, as well as technology trends and the competitive landscape within various industries. Often, it notes,  the true value of a company lies with its intellectual properties, and examining patent assets is a key tool in gauging the intangible assets of publicly traded companies.

According to IFI, total U.S. patent grants declined less than 1% from 2019, going from 354,428 to 352,013. Patent applications, however, rose nearly 5% from 2019 to 2020, continuing an upward trend over the past 4 years.

IBM Tops U.S. Patent List for 28th Consecutive Year

IBM, the consistent leader in U.S. patents, topped the U.S. Top 50 with 9,130 grants, down 1% from 2019. IBM scientists and researchers received 9,130 U.S. patents in 2020, the most of any company, marking 28 consecutive years of IBM patent leadership.

IBM led the industry in the number of AI, cloud, quantum computing and security-related patents granted.

IBM received more than 2,300 AI patents as inventors developed new AI technologies to help businesses scale their use of AI. IBM is focused on delivering innovations in natural language processing, automation and building trust in AI, and continually infusing new capabilities from IBM Research into IBM Watson products.

In another key area, cloud and hybrid cloud technologies, IBM received more than 3,000 patents. According to IBM, one of the crucial decisions CIOs face today is determining which data will be processed on premise and which will be processed in the cloud. IBM inventors developed a technology to intelligently distribute the data processing components between the cloud, the edge and computing devices in between.

Top 10 Leaders

According to IFI, among companies based outside America, Samsung Electronics earned the most U.S. patents, 6,415, placing it at number 2 on the list. Canon Inc., Microsoft, Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor, LG Electronics, Apple, Huawei Technologies, and Qualcomm rounded were the other top 10 patent earners during the past year.

All except Taiwan Semiconductor and Qualcomm were in the top 10 last year. Amazon stood just beyond the top 10, rising four spots from 15th place in 2019 to 11th place in 2020, with 2,244 patent grants.

Non-U.S. companies and organizations had the majority share of new U.S. patent grants last year at 53%. The U.S. received the lion’s share of any single country though with 164,379 overall. That was 47% of all patents granted and more than three times the number earned by Japanese companies (number 2 with 52,429). South Korea held the number 3 slot with 22,400, while Chinese concerns ranked fourth on the list, with 18,792 grants.

Fastest Growing Tech Based on Patent Applications

According to IFI, the fastest growing technology based on patent applications—a strong indicator of what is ahead—is computer systems based on biological models, which saw a 67% increase from 2016-20. This area of computing uses brain biology as an inspiration and includes big tech leaders such as Google, Microsoft, and Intel.

While IBM may lead U.S. calendar-year grants, IFI says that Samsung, headquartered in South Korea, holds by far the most active patent assets in the world with 80,577, 5% more than in 2019 and more than twice that of IBM, which ranks second on the IFI Global 250 with 38,541. Canon, with 36,161, is a close third, and Microsoft and Robert Bosch GmbH round out the top 5.

IFI says its Global 250 ranking is based on currently held active patent assets as of December 31, 2020. It includes patent assets held in all of the major patent jurisdictions including the U.S., Europe, China, Japan and others. It also is based on “ultimate ownership” where subsidiaries and other owned entities are rolled up under the parent. Using this methodology, IFI explains, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd is not a single entity but a collection of 155 subsidiaries owned by Samsung. Another distinction is that it looks at active patent families where a family is a collection of global patent filings related to a single invention. As a result, a patent for the same invention filed in multiple jurisdictions is only counted once.

Headquartered in New Haven, Conn., with a satellite office in Barcelona, Spain, IFI CLAIMS is a division of Fairview Research.

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