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Artificial intelligence keeps IBM atop 2016 patent list

Big Blue wins the most US patents for the year -- 8,088 -- but Intel and Amazon surge ahead, too.

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IBM's efforts to match and surpass the human brain with computing technology helped push the company to the top of the 2016 list of patent awards.

The US Patent and Trademark Office granted IBM 8,088 patents for the year, more than 2,700 of them stemming from artificial intelligence and cognitive computing work, IBM and IFI Claims said Monday.

Next on the list was Samsung with 5,518 patents, Canon with 3,665, Qualcomm with 2,897 and Google with 2,835. In total, the USPTO granted 304,126 patents in 2016, 10 percent more than the year before, IFI Claims said.

Patents are an imperfect measure of prowess in research, development, innovation and ultimately business success. For one thing, it takes a mammoth staff and a lot of intellectual-property lawyers to rank high on the list, so startups won't make it up the list no matter how successful. For another, many patent ideas never see the light of day, or worse, emerge in a patent troll's sketchy legal action trying to extract licensing fees from big companies.

Nevertheless, patents remain an important reflection of how much a company is investing today into the technology of tomorrow. It's notable that IBM topped the list for the 24th year in a row.

IBM was granted 10 percent more patents in 2016 than 2015, but some others grew faster. No. 6 Intel surged 34 percent to 2,784, while No. 14 Amazon grew 46 percent to 1,662 -- enough to propel it up 12 places compared to the 2015 list.

Apple kept its No. 11 rank but increased its patent haul 8 percent to 2,102.

Some big Japanese electronics firms slid, though: No. 3 Canon dropped 11 percent; No. 10 Sony dropped 11 percent to 2,181; No. 13 Toshiba dropped 26 percent to 1,954; and No. 21 Ricoh dropped 13 percent to 1,412.

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