IBM Still Leads in Patents

IBM last week announced that it has become the first company to earn more than 4,000 patents in a single year, and also said it will ratchet up the number of technical innovations it publishes instead of seeking patent protection.

This is the 16th straight year that Big Blue led the race, pulling in 4,186 patents throughout 2008. Samsung ranked second with 3,515 patents, Canon third at 2,114, while Microsoft was fourth with 2,030, and Intel took the fifth spot with 1,776. Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, came in at number 10 with 1,424.

[ Discover the top IT products as rated by InfoWorld's 2009 Technology of the Year Awards. ]

Offering a different perspective than the straight numbers, however, the IEEE last week released study results finding that Microsoft has the strongest patent portfolio, based on how many patents were issued, the growth of the portfolio, and the diversity of technologies patented by that company.

IEEE's Pipeline Power metric tallied Microsoft's score at 3,505 in computer software, Intel's at 2,796 in the semiconductor manufacturing grouping, and IBM's at 2,747 within the computer systems category.

This was the first year the IEEE featured computer software vendors, and while Microsoft scored five times higher than any other, SAP, Oracle, and AOL got respectable marks.

IBM said that it plans to increase the number of inventions it publishes rather than seeks patent protection for, by as much as 50 percent. In so doing, IBM claimed in a prepared statement that it is "pledging not to assert certain patent rights in the area of open source software, health care, education, and software interoperability."

The company also said it is working on a joint project, the Patent Quality Index, to address those patents with uncertain scope or weak claims to innovation. Â

Director of IBM Research, and a senior vice president, Dr. John Kelly explained in the statement: "Our goal is helping stimulate innovation as public investments in large infrastructure projects are being planned to boost global economies. We also anticipate that adding additional transparency to the patent system will help tackle the continuing patent quality crisis, which is impeding inventors, entrepreneurs, and companies of all sizes."

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