The Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) recently published its 2015 IP Spotlight, a report detailing U.S. intellectual property trends. The report, a slimmed down version of previous years’ IP Record, highlights 2014’s top design patent and trademark recipients, litigation trends, and statistics from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This years’ list of the top 50 companies having been granted design patents was dominated by technology, automotive, and consumer product companies, with foreign corporations representing more than 40% of the top 50 with a total of 20 companies.
For over a decade, design patent filings and grants have enjoyed uninterrupted growth year over year buoyed by the expansion of the U.S. innovation economy and the increasingly global nature of the IP space. In 2014, this trend continued, despite smaller rates of growth than in years past. According to the IPO data, in 2014 the top 50 design patent recipients received a combined total of 4,743 design patents, compared to 4,599 granted to the top 50 recipients in 2013. Specifically, the growth in 2014 was just under an increase of 150 design patents that were granted in 2014 compared to an increase of nearly 400 that occurred year-to-year from 2012 to 2013. Despite the recent slowdown, however, the prospects remain strong for continued growth in design patent applications in the coming years, especially as innovators look toward design patents to strengthen their IP portfolios.
The Top 50 Examined
Perched atop the rankings again this year was South Korea’s Samsung. The company was issued 836 design patents, nearly 20% of the combined total issued to the top 50. The company bested second-ranked Microsoft by nearly 500 design patents. The 836 patents reflects a year-to-year increase of more than 300 patents for Samsung.
Rounding out this years’ top 10 design patent grantees were four tech giants, two automotive corporations, and a handful of other household names. As previously noted, Microsoft received 329 design patents in 2014, enough to claim second in the overall rankings. Joining the two electronics giants in the top 10 are LG, which ranked third with 307 patents, Apple, ranked fifth with 190 patents, and Panasonic, whose 108 patents earned it eighth place. In the automotive space, Toyota’s 129 grants garnered sixth on the roster, while Ford was granted 101 patents and ranked tenth. Rounding out the top 10 were fourth place Nike with 229 patents, seventh place Target with 112, and ninth place 3M with a total of 102.
In 2014, 18 newcomers emerged onto the top 50 list of companies obtaining design patents, while 16 companies fell off of the list. Notable newcomers include: 15th ranked Google, which this year received 82 patents, 17th ranked KM Fashion Eyewear with 80 patents, 25th ranked Fujifilm Corp was granted 57, and 34th ranked Callaway Golf had 48. In total, four newcomers joined the top 20 companies granted design patents, while nine made up the bottom 10 companies in top 50 for 2014. The companies that fell off the 2014 rankings include Colgate-Palmolive, despite receiving 71 patents and finishing 21st in 2013; Gillette, which received 55 patents, good enough for 28th in last years’ rankings; and BSH Home Appliances Corp, which garnered 38 design patents, securing 42nd last year.
In 2014, nearly two out of five of the companies ranked among the top 50 companies that obtained design patents were foreign corporations. These 20 companies received a combined total of 2,288 U.S. design patents, representing nearly 50% of the total design patents awarded to the top 50 companies. This compares to 2013, when 24 foreign companies combined to receive more than 2000 design patents, and nearly 44% of the total. While domestic companies were more abundant in 2014, their combined share of the Top 50 was reduced by more than 5%.
Japan, followed by Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands, Canada, Taiwan, Finland, and France, each featured at least one company among the top 50. Japan had nine companies represented in 2014, which combined received 486 U.S. design patents. The companies include automotive giants Toyota, with 112 patents, Honda had 95 patents, Nissan garnered 51, and Mitsubishi secured 47 patents. Photography companies Fujifilm and Nikon were each awarded 56 and 35 patents respectively, and technology conglomerates Sony and Toshiba received 53 and 37 respectively.
Germany, boosted by a strong manufacturing and automotive sector had five companies represented which received a combined 336 patents. The German firms represented include Robert Bosch GmbH with 92 patents, Daimler with 71, Porsche had 68, Hansgrohe SE secured 53, and BMW received 52. South Korea, a technology hub, was represented by two of the top three companies, Samsung, which was granted 836 patents, and LG who secured 307 grants. The remaining countries each had one company represented. Blackberry, Ltd., formerly Research in Motion of Canada made the top 50 with 58 patents, and Philips of The Netherlands received 89 grants. Taiwan was represented by Hon Hai Precision, otherwise known as Foxconn, which had 51, Nokia of Finland had 34, and Nestle of France with 34 closed out the 50 top companies.
Foreign companies that made the top 50 in 2013, but failed to make the rankings in 2014, include LG Hausys, a Korean-based manufacturer of construction materials, which fell from 34th; Cheng Uei Precisions Industry Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer known also as Foxlink, which finished 37th in 2013; Seiko Epson Corp. which dropped off the list from is 2013 position of 42nd; and CJ Cheiljedang Corp., a South Korean manufacturer of proceed foods, which dropped from 48th.
The evergreen technology space made a dominant showing in 2014, sending 14 companies to the top 50. Accompanying the five companies previously listed in the top 10 – Samsung, Microsoft, LG, Apple, and Panasonic were 9 technology companies, from four countries on three continents. This year the tech community received a combined 2,307 patents, nearly 50% of the total received by the top 50. Household names including Google, whose 82 patents put it 15th, HP, which secured 59 patents and landed at 22nd in the rankings, and Sony, whose 53 patents put the company in 28th, were joined by notable players including Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, which was awarded 51 patents and placed 31st in this years’ ranking. Well known tech companies dropped from this year’s rankings including, Seiko, Epson, and Motorola, each of which finished last year among the bottom 10 companies.
The automotive space, dominated by Japan, Germany, and the United States, combined to receive a total of 614 design patents in 2014. The eight companies, all of which have been mentioned above, capitalized on growing foreign sales, and new technologies, such as driverless and other safety/crash avoidance technology, to garner more than 10% of this years’ top 50 total design patent grants. Unlike other industries, the automotive industry was stable year-to-year with no new companies entering the ranking, and no companies falling out of the top 50.
Consumer Product Companies and Other Household Names
While automotive and technology dominated this years’ rankings with a combined 60% share of the total design patents granted, consumer product companies and common household names made a significant showing in this years’ top 50. Nike, Target and 3M were each ranked in the top 10, with Kohler falling just outside at 11th with 98 patent grants. Further down the rankings appear Procter & Gamble, with 81 grants ranked 16th; S.C. Johnson ranked at 33rd based on receiving 50 patents; Otter Products in 35th place having secured 47; and Black & Decker in the 39th position with 44 patents granted.
Overall, the top 50 design patent grantees for the year seemingly fluctuate in relation to the market. For instance, the continued strength of the technology sector coupled with the resurgence of and innovation in the automotive market combine to drive much of the yearly growth in design patent grants. Not surprisingly, new products and new innovations create increased demand for design protection, explaining why numerous leading companies fluctuate yearly between inclusion and exclusion from the rankings. As companies continue to emphasize the importance of design protection globally, it would not be surprising to see an increase in the number of new companies that emerge onto the Intellectual Property Owners Association’s 2015 ranking of companies granted the most U.S. design patents.