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The newspapers and the internet are full of stories revolving around the fact that for the 20th year in succession IBM obtained most patent grants from the USPTO in 2012, being awarded 6,478 – well over 1,000 more than Samsung, its closest rival. Big Blue itself has also put out a laudatory press release (as it does this time every year) proclaiming its achievements. “We are proud of this new benchmark in technological and scientific creativity, which grows out of IBM’s century-long commitment to research and development … Most concretely, our 2012 patent record and the two decades of leadership it extends are a testament to thousands of brilliant IBM inventors -- the living embodiments of our devotion to innovation that matters, for our clients, for our company and for the world,” Ginni Rometty, chairman and CEO, of the company is quoted as saying.
But Rometty does not talk about the other side to this story, which is just how many patents IBM abandons each year. According to Dennis Crouch on the PatentlyO blog, in some years it has not paid first-time maintenance fees on up to 45% of the grants it has received – amounting to literally thousands of patents. The work Crouch has done in this area is supported by research that will be published in the next issue of IAM. Using statistics and analysis provided by MDB Capital, we will be revealing what we are calling the US Patent 100: that is, the entities which own the most non-expired, non-abandoned US patents, as well as those which own the fasting growing portfolios and the portfolios which are most recognised within the industries to which they are applicable.
What the US Patent 100 tells us is that it is actually Samsung which has the biggest collection of non-expired US patents. The Korean company holds 6,000 more than Big Blue (approximately 45,000 to 38,500). What’s more, only eight of the top 20 are American companies. In the top 10, as well as IBM you will find HP, Microsoft and Intel from the US. One mind-boggling factoid for you is that between them the top 100 holders of US patents own over one-third of all those which are currently valid; something which suggests that many solutions to the current backlog and quality challenges the USPTO is facing lie in the hands of relatively few CIPOs, chief patent counsel and company boards.
As we have discussed on here before, IBM milks its annual number one spot very successfully. It is, no doubt, one of the reasons why the company seems to be prepared to take a “patent everything that moves” approach: the costs of applying for thousands of patents which it can be pretty sure it is going to abandon at the first opportunity are far outweighed by the value the annual headlines about Big Blue being number one for innovation generate – regardless of the fact that in reality raw patent numbers tell us very little about this. It’s a great strategy, until the year that IBM is not number one – then the headlines could turn very nasty; which is probably another reason why the company has to have a “patent everything that moves” strategy.
Anyway, what works for IBM could surely also pay dividends for Samsung. A press campaign and/or ads around the fact that it owns more US patents than anyone else, and way more than, say, Apple (which is down in 53rd place with just over 6,500), might reap a very handy reputational boost - one that would be well worth the relatively low amount needed to let people know (if you don't include the cost of building and maintaining the portfolio, of course!).
IP management, Patents, IP business
Never mind the quality feel the width? We all know its smoke and mirrors with patents for these companies. The problem with this is that those who understand this issue are a relatively small group and such exposure of the position is normally publicised by those who know to those who know or suspect. Is this story going to run in the Wall Street Journal or other mainstream press? Perhaps.
The Top 100 hold one third? So these Patent Gorillas have a stranglehold on a massive chunk of the US IP real estate. You can see how SMEs are daunted by these companies and their "leverage" of this massive imbalance in IP power. This is not the high profile Patent Troll actions so reviled by these hoarders that see much press coverage through a constant and well funded PR and political campaign against NPEs in general. No this is the ugly and largely unseen underbelly of "legitimate" leverage of IP with menaces to secure competitive advantage when none is actually warranted.
Tangible IPNicholas White, Tangible IP on 11 Jan 2013 @ 13:32