IBM Has the Most Patents – Again

January 12, 2010

Check out the results at:

IBM has secured more patents than any other company in the world for the 17th straight year.  While certainly the numbers impress, 4914 patents, more than 1300 than the next closest firm, what seems most compelling to me is the breadth of patents and research initiatives as well as a wider perspective about research in general.  For example IBM also publishes a journal of its research efforts that do not result in patents, which is both (a) generous sharing of research investments but also offers IBM (b) limited protection of their IP.

So view the 4914 and 17th straight year as just some of the indicators of IBM’s level of commitment to innovation.  Frankly I am equally as impressed by IBM’s new program of sharing their approach on innovation as a service to clients.  If you have scored the most patents in the world for 17 straight years you should be sharing that “service” with clients and partners.

Aligned with the “Smarter Planet” macro-theme, IBM Research doesn’t purely focus on IT, but an entire range of initiatives that reflect IBM’s business orientation.   Thus IBM looks at the potential application of IT in a socially and business driven manner, not just from the technology out.  Look at examples such as automotive telematics and you will get the idea.  While IBM often touts its petaFLOPS recordbreaker Roadrunner computer with the press, and plans to actually rollout Roadrunner on a limited basis by 2011,  see here, for most of the industry and wider world IBM’s more vertically-focused efforts will provide actual commercial and human impact sooner.

Mind you “most patents” does not necessarily equate to “most innovative.”  Even on IBM Research’s own blogs do they bring into question whether the pressure to reach patent is useful or not, and they discuss the plethora of unnecessary patents in the industry which slows down the patent process for legitimate patent seekers.  However, it is difficult to argue with such a huge lead in number of patents.

These patent counts certainly bring into question Information Week’s 2009 most innovative company list, where Apple shows up as number 1, Google number 2, Microsoft 4, IBM 6 and Samsung (#2 in patents behind IBM) all the way down at 16.  Apple and Google may be the most visibly innovative at the consumer level, but in terms of IT industry R&D spending and patents, IBM (#2 in spending, #1 in patents) and Microsoft (#3 in patents, #1 in spending) should have been given a more in-depth analysis.  If innovation is a popularity contest, well, okay, Apple and Google. But innovation insinuates itself in all kinds of subtle ways, not just in your phone or music players or your Web search or mapping technology.

Regardless, congratulations and thanks to IBM who has been setting the bar for on-going commitment to innovation in the IT industry, and one could argue the world, for basically two decades.  And thanks to Microsoft who isn’t very far behind, who actually spends more on R&D now than any other IT vendor, and has, despite facing financial pressures really for the first time in its existence over the past years, actually significantly increased its commitment to research.

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