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Patent by numbers

IEEE Spectrum's roundup of patent stats.

Growth in the IP lawsuit sector of the economy and the resulting patent-reform movement can leave you thirsting for reliable data on which to base policy judgments and cocktail-party conversation. Initially, I thought the IEEE Spectrum's annual patent stats roundup, Keeping Score in the IP Game would handily rehydrate my chit-chat cortex. After all, the data contains glittering--although frequently unsurprising--infonuggets like:

  • Microsoft ranks fifth for total patents awarded in the Computer Systems and Software category (1,469), but first in IEEE's computed measure of the power conferred by those patents. The other four top players in that category are IBM (3,651), HP (5,2115), Toshiba (1,987), and Fujitsu (1,674).
  • Hitachi (3,198), Matsushita (2,507), and Sony (1,970) lead the pack for Electronics.
  • Samsung (2,474) tops the chart in semiconductor manufacturing, but Intel's portfolio (1,961) has the most power.
  • For telecom, Siemens (1,514) has the most patents, but AT&T's (763) pack more punch.

I'm also impressed by the magazine's attempt to quantify the impact of patent portfolios with its Pipeline metric.

That said, however, a couple of aspects of the story bothered me. The tagline reads: "Quantity and concentration of patents strengthen the case for legislative reform." Hmmm. I'll ignore the fact that the story never even tries to draw a causal link between its numbers and patent abuse. The data does show that big companies have a lot of patents. The data also show that some relatively small companies, like Digimarc with its measly 77 patents, can wield considerable power--it ranks fifth in the computer systems and software category, above Sun Microsystems, Fujitsu, NEC and Oracle.

The article does state that "the patents in any given field still go to a few top companies, that there is little change from year to year among the dominant firms, and that big gaps yawn between the leaders and the runners up." But the author fails to point out that by the Pipeline metric, there are far fewer such gaps than between the raw numbers.

I could go on, but I won't, because regardless of my nitpicks, it's an interesting read.

(via Peter Zura's 271 Patent Blog)