IBM held its long time place as the first beneficiary of US patents in 2020 with 9,130 inventions, followed by Samsung, Cannon and Microsoft. Others in the top 10 include Apple and Intel, according to the research firm IFI.
While the total number of issued patents fell slightly from the record high of 354,428 in 2019, published patent applications have increased, suggesting that intellectual property remains as popular as ever. The pandemic does not appear to have had an immediate effect on patent volume – although it is too early to know for sure, as new patent applications are not published until after 18 months.
The IFI’s research also includes a section on the 10 fastest growing new technologies that appear in patent applications. Some of the results, which cover from 2016 to 2020, are not surprising: Patents related to the hot fields of machine learning and quantum computing are number four and five, respectively.
More surprisingly is the second rapidly growing category, “electronic smoking devices,” which undermines a variety of vaping patents, most of which were obtained by tobacco giants, Altria and Philip morris.
The rapidly growing category as a whole, which is determined by codes assigned by the US Patent Office, is that titled “Computer Systems Based on Biological Models.” The category, for which IBM received 2,789 patents last year, appears to encompass a wide variety of inventions related to so-called “neural networks” and other techniques that mimic brain function. Two examples of these patents, issued to IBM and Microsoft, are described below:
The third fastest growing category of new patented technologies is titled “Angiosperms – New Blooming Patents” and is dominated by Monsanto and other agricultural companies, according to the IFI.
While patents are often associated with innovation, they can also be controversial. In recent years, critics have claimed that the US Patent Office has granted too weak patents, which may fall into the hands of so-called “patent trolls“… Companies that produce nothing but business by demanding payments from companies that do so in order to license their technology. The question, and related questions regarding the validity of patents, has been subject of many Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.
Here is a list of the top 20 patent grantees for 2020, including the number of patents they received:
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