11 January 2002 IBM last year patented more inventions than any other company in the world for the ninth consecutive year. The hardware giant was granted 3,411 US patents in 2001, the first time a company has secured more than 3,000 patents in a single year.
The figures were compiled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
IBM employs an estimated 3,000 researchers worldwide out of a workforce totalling 316,303 staff. The company spent about $5 billion (€5.6bn) on research and development last year and filed more patents than Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Compaq, Dell, Apple, EMC, Oracle, EDS, Accenture and America Online combined.
The company adopts an aggressive approach to patenting, which it treats as a form of investment and a business asset – and not only for legal protection. The company reaps substantial royalties from its patent portfolio and has been praised by some industry analysts for its imaginative, global approach to patenting.
But critics have accused IBM of “defensive” patenting, whereby inventions are patented simply to prevent rivals from developing certain technologies or to extract royalties from them when they do. However, this is a common practice across the computer industry.
Despite IBM’s success, the top-10 list was dominated by Japanese technology companies. Boise, Idaho-based memory chip-maker Micron Technology was one of only three non-Japanese companies in the top 10, at number four with 1,643 patents filed. The other was South Korean electronics group Samsung in fifth.
NEC ranked second, followed by imaging equipment maker Canon, Micron, Samsung and then the Japanese conglomerates of Matsushita, Sony, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Fujitsu. European companies were conspicuous by their absence from the list.