IBM retains patent crown

For the 11th year in a row, Big Blue is the top recipient of U.S. patents, indicating the swift innovation of its engineers and scientists, the company says.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read
IBM gained more U.S. patents than any other company in 2003, Big Blue announced Monday.

The computing giant said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted it 3,415 patents, marking the 11th consecutive year the company has been the top recipient. IBM said it is the only company to garner more than 3,000 patents in one year, which it has done for the past three years.

In the past 10 years, the company has sought to make its research division more focused on customer requirements, rather than solely research. Today, many patents originate from customer issues, according to IBM.

"What differentiates IBM from other companies is our ability to rapidly apply these inventions to new products and offerings that solve the most pressing business challenges of our clients," Nick Donofrio, IBM senior vice president, said in a statement.

Other tech companies are stepping up their patent efforts as well. Hewlett-Packard announced Monday that it jumped to the No. 5 position on the list of patents awarded in 2003, up from the ninth spot in the preceding year. HP received 1,759 patents last year, a 27 percent increase from 2002, the company said.

To derive more revenue from its growing patent portfolio, the company also said Monday that it has created a unit to handle licensing of its intellectual property. All of HP's intellectual property has been moved into a separate, wholly owned holding company to be managed by the IP licensing organization.

"Over time, we believe that the new IP we are generating will help contribute to top-line and bottom-line growth in both established and emerging markets," Shane Robison, chief strategy and technology officer at HP, said in a statement.

At IBM, software-related patents are on the rise. Of all of Big Blue's patents, more than 1,400 were in software, marking the second year that more than 40 percent of its patents were in software, the company said.

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IBM's 2003 patent crop reflects the company's ongoing "autonomic computing" initiative to make computing systems self-managing and more automated. For example, one patent describes a "self healing" server that can detect problems and trends.

Other areas where Big Blue bulked up its patent portfolio include: on-demand computing, an effort to make IT resources available as necessary to handle spikes in usage; pervasive computing, which connects handheld computers and other devices to the Internet; and life sciences, which has seen a large uptick in investments from computing companies.

IBM flaunts its patent portfolio as a measure of the innovation of its engineers and scientists. But the company's current portfolio is not the best indicator of future products due to the pace at which the Patent Office awards patents, said David Kaminsky, master inventor at IBM.

"The patent cycle is slower than the product cycle now within IBM," Kaminsky said. "To see where IBM is innovating today, you have to look at in-progress patents."

Typically, IBM submits an application for a patent during the product development process, and many enhancements are released into products before a patent is granted or rejected, he said.