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US patent grants slow in wake of Supreme Court business methods ruling

Peter Sayer | Jan. 14, 2016
IT giants are no longer driving growth in U.S. patent grants.

Given the preponderance of IT-related patent filings, it's no surprise that South Korean and Japanese industrial research powerhouses Samsung Electronics and Canon ranked second and third behind IBM for patents granted, but Californian companies are closing in fast, according to IFI: Qualcomm and Google both jumped three places, to number four and five, respectively. Toshiba clung on to sixth place but Sony slipped three places to seventh.

Google's gain was Microsoft's loss: It slipped from fifth to tenth place, ahead of Apple by the narrowest of margins.

Microsoft is one of several companies making it harder to track its patent output by assigning its patents to specialized holding entities. The USPTO only granted 465 patents to Microsoft Corp. in 2015 -- but granted 1,956 to Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC. Other companies entering the assignment game this year include Panasonic Intellectual Property Management Co Ltd, Panasonic Intellectual Property Corp of America and Google Technology Holdings LLC, IFI said.

Given Apple's activity in the patent courts in recent years, it may be a surprise to see the company so far down these rankings. One reason is that many of the patents Apple has asserted so aggressively are design patents that protect the look and feel of its devices, and not the utility patents that IFI counts. A design patent for the iPad's rounded corners helped Apple win an initial damages award of US$1.05 billion from Samsung in August 2012.

One of the strongest climbers is Amazon.com, which jumped from 50th to 26th place. The infamous "one-click" patent it filed in 1997 has survived reexamination and, so far, the Alice ruling. The company's patent interests now extend far beyond business methods, though, and more recently it has been innovating in cloud computing and robotics.

 

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