SAN FRANCISCO — 2015 saw a 1% downturn in U.S. patent activity for the first time in seven years, with 298,407 utility patents filed. Perennial patent leader IBM, which led the year with 7,355 patents, is down slightly compared with 2014.
A 1% decrease is significant because the past few years have seen 3%-4% growth in patent awards, said IFI Claims Patent Services Senior Analyst Larry Cady. This year's decrease is likely due to changes in software patentability and a "sour economy" that has companies cutting back on research, Cady told EE Times.
This doesn't mean "the patent train is losing momentum," said the CEO of IFI, which compiled the 2015 figures. Companies such as IBM, Samsung, and Canon generate twice as many patents as they did a decade ago.
The top 50 patent assignees received a total of 79,052 utility grants, or 26% of all patents assigned in 2015. 42,864 unique assignees received utility grants while 6% of all patents had no assignee. The top 10 patent assignees are below:
- International Business Machines Corp (7,355)
- Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (5,072)
- Canon KK (4,134)
- Qualcomm (2,900)
- Google (2,835)
- Toshiba Corp (2,627)
- Sony Corp (2,455)
- LG Electronics Inc (2,242)
- Intel Corp (2,048)
- Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC (195)
The top three patent awardees from 2014 maintained their spots, while Qualcomm moved up three places to No. 4 and Google jumped up three rungs to No. 5. Sony, Panasonic, and Microsoft all dropped by at least three spots in the number of patents awarded. Apple, which came in at No. 11, held the same ranking from 2014 though its patent awards decreased by 3%.
Amazon Technologies saw significant increase in its issued patents, and moved up 24 places from No. 50 to No. 26. Cady is unsure exactly why Amazon was so successful this year.
Although several top 50 companies dropped considerably lower in the patent ranking, fewer patents isn't the only reason. Rather, companies such as Microsoft and Panasonic have spread their portfolios across multiple entities and assigned patents to newly formed holding companies.
While a company may put patents into a separate company and move that company offshore to avoid corporate taxes, Cady believes the reorganizations are to make licensing easier. Having patents in different divisions and negotiating with all those divisions separately is difficult, he noted, and working with one entity in charge of licensing would streamline the process.
Most of Microsoft’s 2015 patents were granted to Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC, while only 465 were granted to Microsoft Corp. Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd holds 1,474 patents, while 458 are held by Panasonic Intellectual Property Corp of America and 300 are held by Panasonic Corp. Google has a similar breakdown, with 2,835 patents granted to Google Inc and 360 to Google Technology Holdings LLC.
This trend will likely continue into 2016 with other companies following Microsoft and Google's lead, Cady said. While the names on IFI's top patent lists will change, "the numbers are necessarily going to change very much."
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