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2012 Patent Rankings: IBM On Top, Google Spikes 41

bednarz writes "It's official: IBM has dominated the U.S. patent race for two decades. IBM earned 6,478 utility patents last year, topping the list of patent winners for the 20th year in a row, according to data published today from IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. Samsung was the second most prolific patent winner, with 5,081 patents received in 2012, followed by Canon (3,174), Sony (3,032), Panasonic (2,769), Microsoft (2,613), Toshiba (2,447), Hon Hai Precision Industry (2,013), GE (1,652), and LG Electronics (1,624). Earning its first appearance among the top 50, Google increased its 2012 patent count by 170% to 1,151 patents and landed at 21 in IFI's rankings, up from 65 in 2011. Google narrowly beat Apple, which earned 1,136 patents (an increase of 68%) and landed at 22 in the rankings."
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2012 Patent Rankings: IBM On Top, Google Spikes

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  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:17PM (#42550385)

    The professor said that IBM has taken up a defensive position with patents. IOW, don't F with us and we wont start a patent war with you.

    • by Pinhedd ( 1661735 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:22PM (#42550455)

      Trying to take on IBM in a patent war would be like trying to sink the Missouri with small arms fire

      • More like tugging on Superman's cape.
      • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:58PM (#42550845) Homepage
        As you say, trying to take on IBM in a patent war is stupid.

        But you fail to describe the larger totality of stupidity. It is stupid to try to take on IBM in any kind of war.

        Example: SCO in 2003 started a war with IBM over copyrights. (not patents)

        Now that, just right there, is stupid enough. But not for SCO. To add to the stupidity, SCO had no basis in fact for their lawsuit and was hoping to discover some during the litigation. But wait, there's more! Since even double plus stupid wasn't stupid enough for SCO, it turned out that SCO didn't even own the copyrights they were suing IBM for supposedly infringing. But wait, it gets stupider! SCO claimed loudly and publicly, and more importantly in court that the GPL was not valid and even unconstitutional, while SCO continued to distribute the Linux kernel and other GPL licensed software. So IBM said "okay", and counter sued SCO for copyright infringement because IBM is a kernel contributor and SCO was now distributing IBM's copyrighted Linux kernel code without a license (eg, the GPL). Much hilarity ensued for years as SCO tied a bigger and bigger Gordian Knot []. Now SCO sits in bankruptcy, with no action happening in any courts. The who fiaSCO will be ten years old this March.

        But back to the topic, after SCO's initial copyright lawsuit (not a patent suit), IBM counter sued over several things, and just for good measure added four patent suit claims that would be sure to cover every single product that SCO made. This is a great example of how good patents can be used defensively against people who are uninformed about just how stupid they actually are.

        In the end, IBM spent many millions more in legal costs than it would ever have cost to just buy SCO and make them shut up. But that's what SCO wanted and IBM wasn't going to give it to them. I'm sure to set an example to other would be pests who just want money to go away. Having patents can work great in that regard.

        On a different note, it's too busy Google was too busy innovating instead of amassing a large collection of patents. At least, now they understand that they should be getting patents on everything instead of having a streamlined process of innovating.
    • They all claim it's for a defensive position.

      Meanwhile, I notice that both Samsung and Google filed more patents than Apple. Funny how the Slashdot hive-mind would have you believe that Apple is the one that's claiming too many patents.

      Almost as funny as finding out a couple of weeks ago that Samsung spends 10 times as much as Apple on marketing.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:35PM (#42550637)

    Filing for patents has been a routine part of being an IBM employee for decades, so employees know how to do it, the internal bureaucracy is in place to make it happen, employees are used to identifying what might count as patentable and submitting it, and there are some minor incentives to do it (bonuses). The fact that IBM usually doesn't make embarrassing headlines with stupid lawsuits (they use them mostly defensively) helps grease that also, because employees don't feel like huge jerks filing them.

    • I can't think of examples off the top of my head, but it seems like "employees are used to identifying what might count as patentable and submitting it" really amounts to "employees know to just go ahead and patent almost anything, and IBM can decide later if they want to enforce it"
      • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:52PM (#42550785) Homepage Journal

        I can't think of examples off the top of my head, but it seems like "employees are used to identifying what might count as patentable and submitting it" really amounts to "employees know to just go ahead and patent almost anything, and IBM can decide later if they want to enforce it"

        Sort of.

        IBM has an internal process for vetting possible patents. Employees are encouraged to submit anything and everything that seems like a reasonably novel and interesting idea to this internal process, and a committee composed of attorneys and patent-savvy engineers reviews it and decides if it makes sense to go ahead.

        I never really got involved in the patent game during my 14 years at IBM, but the one patent I did submit (for a method of automatically finding faces in images) the committee deemed to be insufficiently novel. I thought it was pretty novel. It was dead simple to implement, blindingly fast and highly accurate, and this was about 15 years ago, before there were face-finding tools and libraries all over the place. But the committee shut us down.

        I think that internal committee is the reason why IBM's patents tend to be fairly high quality. Some ringers slip through, of course, but I think they're the exception, not the rule.

        • Just curious what your face detection technique was.

          • It wasn't actually mine, though I was on the team and it was common practice in IBM for teams to jointly submit for one member's work, on the theory that everyone had some contribution in the discussions that led up to the patentable work (which is reasonable, and I probably did contribute some).

            The face detection technique was part of a project for doing security badging with smart cards, and we needed to reduce the amount of fiddling needed to get a perfectly-centered and scaled head shot. All of the co

    • Having an internal bureaucracy in place to patent everything. Wow. Think of the drag on actual innovation. Interrupting your work to deal with every little thing that is potentially patentable.
  • Sheer quantity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by White Flame ( 1074973 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @04:38PM (#42550661)

    33,170 patents were awarded just in the companies listed in TFS. That means the USPTO granted almost 100 patents *per day* in 2012 to just these companies.

    Now, I know that granting a single patent can be a multi-year process, I do not believe for one second that every single one of these patents should be granted (especially from software companies), nor that the USPTO made a reasonable and informed judgement on each application.

    • So you're saying, obviously with no evidence or examples whatsoever, that a company like IBM -- with 433,000 employees [], filled with engineers, and other highly skilled people -- could not have possibly come up with 6478 patents in a single year. Assuming that each patent has a unique author -- that's 1.5% of their employees.

      That seems completely plausible.

  • Hon Hai Precision Industry (2,013)

    Hon Hai is much more widely known in the West as Foxconn []. Many of their patents are for manufacturing processes. By locking down these processes, they will be able to get an even greater share of the contract manufacturing market in the future. All of these companies that think method patents [] are such a great idea, may have second thoughts when their sole source contract manufacturer is a monopolist.

  • by Henriok ( 6762 ) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:02PM (#42551623)
    Is Google's spike in patents due to it taking over Motorola Mobile? And/or is it due to the recent patent wars that have ignited a lust for patents at Google?
    • Is Google's spike in patents due to it taking over Motorola Mobile? And/or is it due to the recent patent wars that have ignited a lust for patents at Google?

      There is a push for Google engineers to propose patents, and corporate infrastructure in place to support it. However, it's not really a part of the culture like it is at IBM. In my opinion, the patent focus at IBM costs the company a great deal in terms of innovation, because the most inventive engineers spend so much of their time on participating in the patent process rather than working on more inventions. IBM obviously reaps later rewards, but I think the patent culture is a net drag on IBM's business.

  • At you can calculate the numbers yourselves for several of the companies: IFI Claims Apple with 1135 Patents granted in 2012. USPTO claims 1293 Patents granted in 2012.
  • Indian Business Machines?

    Welcome to the GDF!

  • Patents were good for human progress until the end of the 20th century. But 20 years has become a whole lot of time for one silly idea to be locked in or monetized by one entity. For a while already patents have been blocking progress in quite a few fields, especially software, but I expect 3D printing will be a big one this decade. Can we please ditch them and move on as a species capable and allowed to invent and share ideas freely?

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead