Thursday, November 24, 2011

US companies dominate in patent power, and software dominates in patent category

IEEE Spectrum has published its annual statistics on patents. They show the dominance of US companies, such as IBM and Microsoft, and the rapid growth of Apple. The overview article is here.

The ranking approach uses what they call 'patent power' and takes into account the growth, impact, generality and originality of patent portfolios using various methods. The 2006 article describing the methodology is here

Here are a few observations:

Top companies in terms of patent power in 2010: The companies with the most powerful patent portfolios, in all industries, are the following. These are those with patent power over 2500. Companies were listed in just one category, even thought they may have patents in several categories. In these numbers I have combined the numbers where one company has bought another (e.g. Oracle having bought Sun)
  1. IBM (8402 in Computer Systems)
  2. Microsoft (7146 in Computer Software; this does not include the Nortel patents they bought in a consortium led by Apple; note also that if Microsoft buys Yahoo, as news articles suggest they are considering, the combined company would top the list at 9910)
  3. Johnson and Johnson (6796 overall; 3610 in Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals; plus 2810 through Ethicon Endo-Surgery and 376 through Depuy Spine)
  4. Medtronic (5540 in Medical Equipment)
  5. Covidien PLC (4544 overall, the top non-US company; 3333 in Medical Equipment; plus another 718 through Nelicor Puritan Bennett and 493 through Mallinckrodt)
  6. Oracle (4171 overall; 3129 in Computer Software, plus 558 through BEA, 362 though Siebel, and 122 through Sun)
  7. Samsung (4033 in Semiconductors; second-to-top non-US company)
  8. Cisco (3299 in Communications/Internet Equipment
  9. Qualcomm (3170 in Communications Equipment)
  10. Yahoo (2789 in Communications/Internet Services)
  11. Apple (2764 in Electronics; this does not include the Nortel patents they bought with Microsoft and others - with their share of these, they would likely be in 10th place)
  12. Hitachi (2669 overall; 2531 in Electronics; plus 138 through Hitachi Global Storage)
Software-related patents: I am particularly interested in software patents, since I in general think they are counterproductive although it is a necessary evil to keep patenting in this domain until changes I have suggested are made. The rankings show IBM dominating in the Computer Systems category; Microsoft and Oracle dominating the Computer Software category, and Samsung, Yahoo and Apple with high presences in other categories that also include software patents. Clearly software patenting is of dominant importance in the patent world, which is unfortunate. It also seems to be on the rapid increase, which bodes badly for ordinary software developers.

Categories with relatively low power patent presence: There are no companies with patent portfolios above 2500 in domains such as aerospace, automotive and chemicals. It is notable that General Motors (1030) is still doing well despite its troubles in the last recession; it is only just behind Toyota (1272) in the automotive category.

Canadian companies:  Top Canadian companies are RIM (1064, Communications/Internet Services) and Magna (553, Automotive).

Google: I thought it notable that Google (2165, Communication/Internet Services) was ranked well behind IBM, Samsung, Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo and Apple, companies they compete with or have intimate relationships with (e.g. Samsung is the top seller of Android systems). Google seems to be losing its reputation as an innovator. See yesterday's post for related comments. However, this year, Google has bought some IBM patents so if the list was recreated with 2011 data it might look a bit different.

Absolute numbers: In absolute numbers of patents (not 'patent power'), IBM also dominates with 5905, but Samsung comes second with 4599. Other companies are far, far behind.


  1. You mention that Google has less patents than competitors / collaborators and then say that they seem to be losing their reputation as an innovator. I don't want to argue whether google is an innovator or not, unfortunately, many of the patents I've seen have nothing to do with 'innovation'.

    I don't care if the big companies want to sue the hell out of each other, but when people start filing lawsuits against the 'little guy', that really makes me mad. There are countless cases of someone being sued for something they created in a few hours. If I can build something (on my own) over the course of one evening, there is no way someone should have a patent on that. If they do, they have effectively patented a 'problem domain' as opposed to a 'solution'.

  2. Ian, I completely agree with what you say.

    In an earlier post I referenced, I pointed out that I disagree with software patents. However, companies have to 'play along' with the system. until the system is fixed. I suggested that they all get together in a big software patent consortium, that would have rules against suing the small guys. Right now, it is like the cold war arms race.