IBM leads patent list, while HP forms IP group

For the 11th year in a row, IBM held the top spot on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) annual list of the top 10 corporations receiving the most U.S. patents for inventions.

With a preliminary count of 3,415 patents issued in 2003, IBM comfortably outpaced the runner-up, Tokyo-based Canon Kabushiki Kaisha, which also held the number-two spot in 2002. Canon landed 1,992 patents in 2003.

Intel broke into the top 10 for the first time, checking in at number seven, with 1,592 patents. Last year, the company ranked 15th.

Other U.S. companies on the list were Hewlett-Packard (HP), at number five, and chip maker Micron Technology, at number six. Micron slipped from the number-three spot on last year's list, while HP climbed from its previous showing at ninth place.

Rounding out the top 10 were Hitachi (number three), Matsushita Electric Industrial (number four), Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV (number eight), Samsung Electronics (number nine) and Sony (number 10).

The USPTO's list is traditionally a multinational affair. Last year, four U.S. companies ranked in the top 10, up from two in 2001.

HP piggybacked on the list's announcement Monday to unveil publicly for the first time a year-old IP (intellectual property) licensing organization intended to oversee and expand its licensing activities. The group is headed by Joe Beyers, HP's vice president of IP licensing. About 50 people inside and outside HP are involved with the IP group.

"We have two goals," Beyers said. "One is to drive strategy for our IP from the point of view of better protecting and getting value from our IP. The second is a business objective, to get added value from our IP beyond our typical product revenue stream."

While the IP organization is structured as a separate, wholly owned holding company, its revenue will not be broken out in HP's financial reports, said Steve Fox, HP's deputy general counsel in charge of IP.

HP's worldwide portfolio includes 17,000 to 21,000 patents, the company estimates. IBM ballparks its portfolio at around 40,000 patents worldwide.

A recent Forrester Research study of patents published worldwide in 2002 and 2003 showed several trends in the software market. Despite industry-wide concern about spam, less than a dozen software patents uncovered in Forrester's survey were for spam-filtering technology. Fraud detection tools led the list in software, with nearly 700 published patents.

Forrester also highlighted the risks of treating research and development as synonymous with useful innovation. A small Austin-based company, Surgient, topped the list of companies registering storage patents during Forrester's survey period, beating IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems. But Surgient's two dozen patents -- and more than US$50 million from venture capitalists -- went to build a streaming-video management system it couldn't sell. After collecting less than $100,000 in sales for the product, the company retrenched and now sells software virtualization and delivery tools.

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