Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Saturday, January 19, 2019
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Patent Awards Slow, But Applications Rise 

The broad category of data processing continued to generate the lion’s share of intellectual property claims in 2018, despite and overall decline in the number of U.S. patents last year, according to an annual survey.

Patent tracker IFI CLAIMS Patent Services said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued 308,853 utility patents in 2018, down 3.5 percent from the previous-year record. While Chinese companies accounted for just 4 percent of the 2018 total, that total increased 12 percent over 2017. All other countries registered declines, IFI CLAIMS reported on Tuesday (Jan. 8).

The patent analyst also noted that the number of patent applications increased last year, holding out the prospect of an uptick in U.S. patent grants in 2019 and beyond.

While perennial U.S. patent leader IBM (NYSE: IBM) registered a small gain in patent awards, other leading technologies companies were flat or declined. The percentage of U.S. patents to Korean electronics giant Samsung Electronics (OTCMKTS: SSNLF) remained unchanged, while Apple, Google, Intel all registered declining patent awards in 2018.

Overall, U.S. companies accounted to 46 percent of all U.S. utility patent issued last year. Asian counties led by Japan, South Korea and China accounted for 31 percent of U.S. patent awards in 2018.

IBM continued its 26-year streak as the U.S. patent leader with 9,100 grants in 2018. Samsung leads in a separate category: the largest patent holders based on the parent company’s and its subsidiaries’ “active patent family.” A patent family is defined as “a set of patent publications filed around the world to cover a single invention,” the patent tracker said.

Based on that metric, Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest chip maker, holds an estimated 61,608 active patent families. Canon (NYSE: CAJ), the Japanese imaging and optical equipment giant, was second with nearly 35,000 active patents while IBM ranked third with 34,376.

Mike Baycroft, CEO of IFI CLAIMS, noted that the new metric reveals more about individual company’s patent portfolio and the current intellectual landscape since patented assets are often sold, transferred or abandoned.

IBM, Samsung Electronics and Canon retained the top three spots in the 2018 patent ranking followed by Intel Corp., LG Electronics (KRX: 066570). In a tough year for Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), U.S. patent grants dropped 10 percent to 2,735. Similarly, U.S. patent awards to South Korea’s LG Electronics declined 8 percent to 2,474.

The patent arms of cloud giants Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) ranked seventh, 11thand 12th, respectively.

Among the biggest gainers was Chinese manufacturing giant BEO Technology Group, which jumped into the top 20 in 2018 after a meteoric rise in 2017. IFI CLAIMS said BEO’s U.S. patent holdings jumped 16 percent last year.

Last year, machine learning was among the fastest growing technologies among patent seekers. This year’s rankings include three auto makers in the top 20: Ford (10th), Toyota (13th) and Hyundai (19th), indicating the autonomous driving technologies are moving to the forefront.

For example, GPU leader Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) announced what it claims is the first commercially available autopilot at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show. The Nvidia DRIVE platform is billed as a “Level 2+” system that allows “supervised self-driving.” The system is scheduled to enter production in 2020, Nvidia said Monday (Jan. 7).

Conspicuously absent from this year’s patent rankings is Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), which had earlier cracked the patent tracker’s top 50 list on the strength of its expanding machine learning portfolio.

 

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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