IBM has retained its position as the leader in IT patents, securing 3,148 patents in 2007, and beating all other competitors for the 15th consecutive year. But the company's lead is getting slimmer and Microsoft charged into the top 10 with 1,637 patents.
Microsoft, which ranked sixth on the annual list after failing to crack the top 10 the previous two years, was one of only five companies to achieve even half of IBM's total patent output, according to IFI Patent Intelligence, a Wolters Kluwer Health business.
IBM has flexed its muscle in numerous patent disputes, winning a cash settlement from Amazon last May after claiming Amazon used IBM technology to build many of its e-commerce systems. Earlier this month, IBM convinced the US government to investigate Asustek, a Taiwanese computer vendor accused of using IBM technology without authorisation.
While Big Blue led all comers by well over 1,000 patents in 2005 and 2006, IBM finished 2007 with only 423 more patents than second-place Samsung Electronics. Nationwide, there were 9.5% fewer patents issued than in the record year of 2006, when the US granted 173,772 patents, including 3,651 to IBM.
Samsung and Microsoft were among only five companies in the top 25 that secured more patents in 2007 than in 2006.
The US Patent and Trademark Office faces a backlog of more than 1.1 million patents pending. In addition to the growing backlog, the office has been criticised for issuing questionable patents, including one in 2005 for an antigravity device. IBM and Microsoft are among those supporting broad changes to the US patent system.
The patent office did receive a 9 percent budget increase for 2008, which could help alleviate the backlog.
"While 2007 didn't bring any marked improvements in terms of reducing America's backlog of patents pending, it wasn't far off the annual average of the past seven years either," Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI Patent Intelligence, said. "Although the total number of patents issued is down from 2006's record high, it did beat 2005's relatively low showing. Overall, it's fair to say that 80% of the top 35 organisations were down versus the previous year."
After IBM and Samsung, the top 10 patent winners were Canon, Matsushita, Intel, Microsoft, Toshiba, Sony, Micron, and HP.
While US companies comprise half of the top 10, Japanese firms account for 13 of the top 25. Semiconductors were the most-patented technology in 2007, with 4,187 patents, followed by 3,855 for active solid state devices and 2,783 for telecommunications.
Top performing areas also include static information storage and retrieval, drugs and biotechnology, chemistry, and radiant energy, according to IFI Patent Intelligence.