IBM Breaks Record with 8,000-plus Patents in Calendar Year

This marks the first time any company or organization has earned more than 8,000 patents in one year, and the 24th consecutive year that IBM has been No. 1 on the list.

New-generation companies aren't the only ones bringing IT innovation into the marketplace. IBM, the granddaddy of all IT companies that has been in business since before World War I (1911), continues to be quietly inventive and probably doesn't get enough credit for its own innovations.

Big Blue revealed Jan. 9 that it broke the U.S. corporate patent record in 2016 with 8,088 patents granted to its inventors in a single calendar year. This marks the first time any company or organization has earned more than 8,000 patents in one year, and it is the 24th consecutive year that IBM has been No. 1 on the list.

The venerable company's 2016 patent output covers a diverse range of inventions in artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, cognitive health, cloud, cybersecurity and other strategic growth areas for the company.

IBM, which allocated a cool $3 billion for new research and development in processors in 2014 and another $3 billion for the internet of things research in 2015, has been focused on continuous invention and innovation through strategic research and development for more than a century. Seeking patents in key strategic areas -- such as AI and cognitive computing -- is an important part of this strategy.

2,000 Patents in AI/Cognitive Computing

IBM's record-setting tally includes 2,000-plus patents in artificial intelligence/cognitive computing and cloud computing. The company has invested a lot of R&D in AI (Watson and other cognitive technologies), cloud and in IoT. In fact, one-third of IBM's researchers are dedicated to cognitive application development.

While patents aren't the only indicator of innovation, they certainly are an essential foundation for how a company like IBM innovates. In fast-moving and competitive markets such as AI and cloud, the inventions that IBM has patented are rapidly paving the way for breakthroughs, growth and leadership in these markets. Examples include:

--Using images to better gauge heart health: Cardiac disease categorization is challenging due to complexity of the heart. IBM researchers have developed a method for categorizing human heart disease states by using cardiac images to characterize the shape and motion of the heart. This tool could help aid doctors with the diagnosis of heart disease symptoms. (U.S. Patent #9,311,703: Method and system for categorizing heart disease states)

--Using drones to map microbes in hospitals, food processing plants, and agricultural fields: In this patent, surveying, testing and measuring contamination is controlled by a cognitive facility that manages drones. The drones enter contaminated areas, collect specimens then confirm and map contamination. This process is triggered by specific risks or performed on an ongoing basis. By collecting microbe samples through a drone, or fleet of drones, new insights into bacterial infections in the hospital, manufacturing plant, or farmland become possible. (U.S. Patent #9,447,448: Drone-based microbial analysis system)

In the area of cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, IBM inventors patented more than 1,000 inventions that help machines learn, reason, and efficiently process diverse data types while interacting with people in natural and familiar ways. Examples include:

--Machine learning to secure the best answers: Providing accurate answers to questions that are posed by users is a fundamental goal of cognitive computing. IBM inventors created an approach for generating candidate answers to a question and then determining how good each candidate answer is based on a ground truth about the question--a baseline that the model knows to be true and can build on. When this process is applied iteratively, answer strength increases and the best answers for a question are identified and incorporated into the machine learning model, which can be applied across industries from financial services to retail. (U.S. Patent #9,384,450: Training machine learning models for open-domain question answering system)

--Planning the best route for a traveler's cognitive state: Current navigation systems are programmed to change routes based on road conditions, but do not take into account a driver's cognitive state. IBM inventors have developed a method for planning a trip route based on the state of travelers that affects driving risk the most: their state-of-mind. Had a long day or easily overwhelmed? This system will help you navigate a less stressful route home. (U.S. Patent #9,384,661: Cognitive needs-based trip planning)

More than 8,500 IBM inventors residing in 47 states and territories and 47 countries are responsible for IBM's record-setting tally. IBM inventors based in New York received over 2,700 patents, while IBMers based in California and Texas were granted over 1,000 patents each.

The Top Ten list of 2016 U.S. patent recipients, according to data provided by IFI Claims Patent Services, is as follows:

1. IBM: 8,088
2. Samsung Electronics: 5,518
3. Canon: 3,665
4. Qualcomm: 2,897
5. Google: 2,835
6. Intel: 2,784
7. LG Electronics: 2,428
8. Microsoft: 2,398
9. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.: 2,288
10. Sony: 2,181

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...