“With cost-cutting getting tighter every year, patent filings may be down recently but the quality of filings as a whole has gone up. The fewer patent applications you file, the better the quality because companies are filing applications based on their top ideas.” – IPO President Dan Staudt
Last month, the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) issued its 38th annual listing of the Top 300 organizations that have been granted U.S. patents. The 2020 list reflects many of the findings released by IFI Claims in that company’s Top 50 U.S. patent grant recipient list for 2020, although discrepancies between the two underscore the oft-difficult nature of parsing patent data into statistically relevant categories.
IPO’s Top 300 listing ranks International Business Machines (IBM) as the top recipient of U.S. patents last year. During 2020, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued 9,435 patents to IBM, a decrease of only 12 patents from the total issued to IBM by the USPTO in 2019. Close on IBM’s heels is Samsung Electronics, which received 8,539 U.S. patents in 2020, a 1% decline from the 8,735 U.S. patents issued to Samsung in 2019. In third place is LG Corporation, which received 5,112 U.S. patents during 2020, a 4% decline from the series of LG companies that the IPO consolidated for this year’s listing.
IPO’s Top 300 Listing Includes Subsidiary Patent Grants in Parent Company Totals
Interestingly, while IPO’s Top 300 list doesn’t necessarily conflict with the IFI Claims Top 50 listing released just a few weeks ago, the two lists provide different patent totals for each corporation, with IPO’s listing generally including higher patent totals per company. For instance, while IBM and Samsung are also first and second place, respectively, in IFI Claims Top 50, their patent totals in that listing were 9,130 patents for IBM and 6,415 patents for Samsung. LG Electronics ranks seventh on IFI Claims’ listing, but as the IPO Top 300 explains, its totals for LG Corporation includes the combined patents of LG Electronics, basic and electronics material firm LG Chemical, thin-film and OLED developer LG Display and electronic components subsidiary LG Innotek.
One reason for the different patent totals between IPO and other 2020 rankings is that IPO’s listing includes totals for each wholly-owned subsidiary of a parent company, according to IPO President Dan Staudt. “Some databases are looking at the particular company or individual that a patent is assigned to,” Staudt said, “but unfortunately when you group patent totals by assignment company, it’s difficult to actually see a company’s entire portfolio.” He noted that Siemens AG, for which Staudt serves as Chief IP Counsel, ranks 31st on IPO’s 2020 list but doesn’t appear in IFI Claims’ Top 50, owing largely to the complex legal structure of Siemens and its subsidiary companies.
This kind of analysis is conducted in collaboration with Harrity Patent Analytics at Harrity & Harrity LLP and explains much of the increased patent totals in IPO’s 2020 patent rankings, especially when it comes to larger discrepancies for multinational conglomerates like Samsung. Interestingly, IPO’s patent rankings include multiple entries for Samsung-related entities like Samsung Electro-Mechanics or Samsung SDI, as well as multiple entries for entities connected to corporate names like Sumitomo or Mitsubishi. Staudt said that the IPO listing reflects the best analysis on legal corporate structures provided by IPO in collaboration with Harrity, so this appears to be another example of how legal complexities in the international patent landscape make statistical comparison a very difficult exercise indeed.
Decreases in Patent Granting Activity Not a Reflection of COVID-19 Pandemic
One area of agreement among IPO and IFI Claims is that any slight decreases in patent granting activity which are generally seen in both rankings are not indicative of any impact to the innovation landscape by the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant economic shutdowns. Rather, Staudt attributes any perceivable drawback in patent granting activity to corporate budget constraints. “With cost-cutting getting tighter every year, patent filings may be down recently but the quality of filings as a whole has gone up,” he said. “The fewer patent applications you file, the better the quality because companies are filing applications based on their top ideas.” Because of the length of time required to prosecute patents through the examination process at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Staudt didn’t anticipate seeing any of the true impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on decreased filing activity for two to four years yet.
Along with the consolidation of entities into LG Corporation, IPO’s Top 300 also notes a few other changes to corporate identities owing to mergers or other business activities. Raytheon Technologies, which ranked sixth in 2020, with 3,213 U.S. patent grants, includes the combined totals of Raytheon and United Technologies, two aerospace and defense companies that merged last April. United Technologies ranked eighth in IPO’s 2019 Top 300 list with 2,847 U.S. patents, so while the Raytheon name survived the merger, it appears that United Technologies supplied much of the company’s boosted R&D efforts in 2020. Ranking 198th in the 2020 Top 300 is Mass General Brigham, the new name for Partners HealthCare after that company rebranded in late 2019 to highlight the Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital medical centers operated by that company. Finally, while previous IPO Top 300 listings included patent totals for individual federal agencies like the U.S. Navy or U.S. Health and Human Services, all of those patent totals have been consolidated into a single total for the U.S. Federal Government, which ranked 40th in 2020’s Top 300 listing with 1,108 U.S. patents.
IPO’s Top 300 listing for 2020 also includes the following 27 companies that didn’t appear in last year’s version of the patent recipient rankings:
- Baker Hughes Company (86th, 572 U.S. patents)
- Yamaha Corporation (168th, 284 U.S. patents)
- Arizona Board of Regents (201st, 242 U.S. patents)
- Battelle Memorial Institute (208th, 232 U.S. patents)
- Lumen Technologies, Inc. (212th, 230 U.S. patents)
- Realtek Semiconductor Corp. (216th, 222 U.S. patents)
- Komatsu Ltd. (220th, 218 U.S. patents)
- Uber Technologies, Inc. (224th, 215 U.S. patents)
- Citrix Systems, Inc. (227th, 212 U.S. patents)
- ServiceNow (239th, 203 U.S. patents)
- Snap Inc. (241st, 201 U.S. patents)
- SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. (244th, 195 U.S. patents)
- Winbond Electronics Corporation (244th, 195 U.S. patents)
- Palantir Technologies (248th, 194 U.S. patents)
- MinebeaMitsumi Inc. (248th, 194 U.S. patents)
- HKC Corporation Ltd. (251st, 193 U.S. patents)
- Magic Leap, Inc. (257th, 187 U.S. patents)
- Midea Group Co., Ltd. (267th, 179 U.S. patents)
- Globus Medical (269th, 178 U.S. patents)
- Chevron Corporation (275th, 172 U.S. patents)
- Rohde & Schwarz GmbH & Co. Kg (276th, 170 U.S. patents)
- Techtronic Industries Co., Ltd. (278th, 169 U.S. patents)
- Dainippon Screen Mfg. Co. (285th, 163 U.S. patents)
- Wistron Corporation (290th, 161 U.S. patents)
- Novo Nordisk A/S (295th, 154 U.S. patents)
- Doosan Group (295th, 154 U.S. patents)
- KAIST (298th, 152 U.S. patents)