IBM top patent producer 20 years running

Both Google and Apple have been bulking up on their patents as well

IBM has always been bullish on patents and 2012 proved to be no exception. IBM once again amassed more patents than any other company in a single year, a distinction it has enjoyed for the past 20 years.

For 2012, IBM received 6,478 patents for its research, the most any company has received in a single year, according to IFI Claims Patent Services, a research firm that compiles a list of the top 50 patent producers each year, using data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The firm tracks the number of utility patents issued. Those are the most common type of patent issued.

IBM, which was awarded 5 percent more patents in 2012 than in 2011, is not the only IT company bulking up on its portfolio. Google made its first appearance on IFI's top 50 this year, with 1,151 patents, an increase of 170 percent from 2011. It just beat Apple, which generated 1,136 patents. Apple wasn't resting on its accomplishments either. It had 68 percent more patents in 2012 than the year before.

Within the top five, IBM was followed by a set of consumer electronic firms that have also been generating more patents. Coming in second, Samsung got 5,081 patents -- up 4 percent from 2011. Cannon came in third place, with 3,174 patents, up 12 percent from the year before.

Only one other IT firm made the top 10: Microsoft was awarded 2,613 patents in 2012.

Companies patent their intellectual property to protect it against unauthorized use, as well as to use the patents in technology licensing deals with other businesses. According to IFI, IBM continues to aggressively patent its research in part to stay abreast of European and Asian companies, which tend to use patent protections more heavily than U.S. companies. In 2012, 17 U.S.-based companies made the top 50 list, while 26 of the firms on the list were based in Asia.

Between 1993 and 2012, IBM was issued more than 67,000 U.S. patents. The company has more than 8,000 researchers spread across 35 countries. Last year, IBM patented a wide variety of technologies, such as a Watson-based method for providing answers to questions (U.S. Patent #8,275,803), a technique for reducing energy consumption in cloud computing environments (U.S. Patent #8,341,441), and a set of algorithms and circuits that mimic how the brain's synapses work to learn new information (U.S. Patent #8,250,010).

Overall, USPTO issued 253,155 utility patents in 2012, an increase of 13 percent from 2011 and an all-time high for the federal agency.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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