Most US patents awarded to foreign countries

US companies received less than half of all US patents awarded in 2009 as foreign companies maintained a lead over their American counterparts.

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US companies received slightly less than half of all US patents awarded in 2009 as foreign companies maintained a lead over their American counterparts.

According to IFI Patent Intelligence, a Wolters Kluwer Health business, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues a total of 167,350 utility patents in calendar year 2009, a 6.1% increase over 2008 and nearing the "all-time high" of 173,772 set in 2006.

Forty-nine percent of those patents landed with US firms, while 51% went to foreign companies, marking the second consecutive year US companies lagged behind. Yet IFI Patent Intelligence points out that US companies received about 7% more patents in 2009 than in 2008, while foreign firms experienced a 6.5% increase during the same time.

"It's foolhardy to use this statistic to infer that American firms are losing ground to foreign competitors because with patents, it’s important to consider quality, as well as quantity," said Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI Patent Intelligence, in a statement. "What we're seeing this year is that innovation in American firms is far from declining, in fact, many had impressive gains and several posted record numbers of total new patents."

According to the firm, several American companies made significant improvements in patents issues during the downturn (see related story).

For instance, IBM achieved an all-time high of 4,914 patents and Microsoft moved from the sixth slot to the number three position with 2,906 patents. Also Cisco increased its number of patents by 30%, winning 913 total, landing in the 18th slot on the list of the top 50 patent winners.

Other US companies IFI Patent Intelligence recognized as showing "significant improvement over 2008" included Boeing, which increased its patent count by 26%, GM global, which saw a 68% increase and Sun, which improved its patent count by 10% over the previous year.

The US also received twice as many corporate patents than Japan, which was issued 23% of U.S patents in 2009, making it the second most awarded country. And South Korea won 5.6% of the patents awarded, enabling that country for the first time to pull ahead of Germany to the third spot of most US patents issued.

Germany received 5.2% of the US patents awarded by the USPTO. While American companies continue to add patents, IFI Patent Intelligence says foreign firms are also working to win patents at a "frenetic pace," which could be considered a good thing for the US economy overall.

"Interest in protecting corporate intellectual property has become intense both in the U.S. and abroad, and as a result, we're seeing an increased level of patent activity," IFI's Slaughter said in a statement. "The silver lining may be that the high priority foreign firms place on U.S. patents is a confirmation of the value and importance that the US market represents."

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