IBM(s ibm) remains the top dog in technology patents issued, according to the latest annual count by the US Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO).
Among IBM patents was a cognitive system implemented on IBM Watson that enables the computer to accept a natural-language question, understand it and answer it; another is a traffic prediction method that delivers congestion information to in-car GPS systems. Still another is a pattern recognition system that helps computers understand spoken phrases or process satellite data to predict the aforementioned traffic jams. An IBM spokesman said 300 of IBM’s new patents, relate to analytics, where IBM has invested in both organic growth and growth by acquisition. The goal, as we hear over and over from many tech vendors, is to solve the “big data” problem.
The trotting out of this list and IBM’s press release announcing its number one slot has become a yearly rite. IBM was granted more than 1,000 more patents in 2012 than #2 Samsung Electronics. Only three US companies — IBM, Microsoft(s msft), and General Electric(S ge) cracked the top ten this year.
There was considerable shuffling in the top 50 list this year. Google(s goog) hit the top 50 for the first time, coming in at number 21, nosing out nemesis Apple(s aapl) by 15 patents. Google’s patent count soared 170 percent year over year, the biggest jump for any company. Apple also rose to the 22 slot from 39 last year, with 60 percent more patents than in 2011.
Patent ownership represents more than just bragging rights. Increasingly tech companies rush to amass patents to protect themselves from infringement lawsuits and to wage legal war on competitors. Complicating matters are the “patent trolls” — companies that buy patents to assemble a legal arsenal to go after alleged infringers but don’t actually create technology. Critics contend that patents do more harm than good in protecting companies from competition. They charge that the patent system, instead of promoting and rewarding innovation, is often used to stifle it.