Patent grants hit all-time high in 2011; IBM leads the way

According to IFI Claims Patent Services, nearly 225,000 utility patents were awarded in 2011, up 2 percent over the previous year's tally.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Patents were a hot-button issue in 2011, so there's no wonder so many companies were filling their portfolios with new intellectual property throughout the year.

According to IFI Claims Patent Services, a company that maintains global patent databases, nearly 224,505 utility patents were awarded in the U.S. last year, jumping 2 percent over the previous year's record-breaking tally of 219,614 patents. It's worth noting that utility patents are just one type of patent that companies can be awarded, but they are the most common and the typical means by which firms protect their inventions.

Historically, IBM has led the pack in total patents granted, and this year is no exception. According to IFI, the company was granted 6,180 utility patents, up nearly 5 percent from 2010. Samsung took the second spot with 4,894 patents, followed by Canon at 2,821 patents. Panasonic and Toshiba rounded out the top five with 2,559 and 2,483 utility patents, respectively.

Microsoft, which held on to the third spot in 2010, found itself in sixth place this time around, with 2,311 utility patents granted last year, according to IFI's tally.

"Global companies, and especially Asian ones, are collecting U.S patents at a dizzying pace, and now Asian firms hold eight of the top 10 slots in the 2011 ranking," IFI CEO Mike Baycroft said yesterday in a statement. "This isn't to say that U.S. companies have lost their verve for patent production, as their patent portfolios are also growing. It seems that Asian companies have apparently made it a higher priority."

Samsung, especially, has a vested interest in growing its patent portfolio. The company is currently engaged with Apple in a host of patent battles across the world. Each company argues that the other violates patents it holds related to mobile products, but so far, neither firm has been able to gain a decisive upper hand.

But it wasn't just Samsung and Apple last year. Just about every prominent company in the mobile arena, including Oracle, Google, Microsoft, HTC, and others, were in some way engaged in patent battles. That resulted in a gold rush of sorts for companies to acquire as many patents as possible to safeguard themselves from competitors. Google was arguably the most bullish on the patent front, acquiring thousands of IBM patents and signing a $12.5 billion deal to acquire Motorola Mobility--and its 17,000 patents, of course.

Considering all that, it's no surprise IFI found that "research and development in mobile communications remains strong," with Qualcomm, Broadcom, Research In Motion, and many other companies inching higher on the patent list because of their investments in the wireless industry.