Technology

IBM Tops in U.S. Patents for 17th Year


(Bloomberg)—International Business Machines Corp. was awarded more U.S. patents than any other company for a 17th straight year, breaking its own record by receiving 4,914 patents in 2009, according to a research report released today.

The computer maker won 36 percent more U.S. patents last year than the next closest company, South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co., with 3,611, according to IFI Patent Intelligence of Wilmington, Delaware. IBM's total was 69 percent more than No. 3 Microsoft Corp., with 2,906.

The figures underscore IBM's continued numerical dominance in the patent field, with last year's total jumping 50 percent from the company's new patents in 2004.

"We invest $6 billion annually in R&D and we continue to pursue patents for inventions that will advance IBM's business strategies and our ability to serve our clients," Christopher Andrews, a spokesman for the Armonk, New York-based company, said in an e-mail.

Among IBM's patents was one that covers a way to increase the speed of so-called petaflop calculations -- those faster than 1 quadrillion per second -- on its Blue Gene supercomputer. IBM says such speeds will improve its ability to map the human genome and predict climate trends. Another patent covers a method for banks to make real-time assessments of a customer's transactions and thus reduce fraud.

As a defensive measure, the company also published details on almost 4,000 inventions in a publicly available company journal last year. By publishing these technical advances, IBM averts the more time-consuming process of obtaining a patent and also prevents rivals from patenting the development directly, since by definition any patent must cover new material.

Other companies on IFI's top 10 list were Canon Inc., with 2,206 patents; Panasonic Corp., 1,829; Toshiba Corp., 1,696; Sony Corp., 1,680; Intel Corp., 1,537; Seiko Epson Corp., 1,330; and Hewlett-Packard Co., 1,273.
LeVine is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau.

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