IBM received the most U.S. patents in 2015 for the 23rd consecutive year, as the company extends its bet that clients will increasingly need and buy more services that use machine learning and similar technologies to improve business functions.
IBM Corp. was awarded 7,355 patents in 2015, the company said Wednesday in a statement. South Korea’s Samsung Electronics received the second-most patents followed by Canon, Qualcomm and Google, according to data compiled by IFI Claims Patent Services, a unit of Fairview Research.
IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty has been focused on expanding the company’s portfolio of what it calls cognitive computing, which uses machine learning and data analytics technologies to help businesses predict behavior and events as well as streamline operations. IBM sells these services and products under the Watson brand, which started as an artificial intelligence engine that became famous for beating humans on the television game show “Jeopardy!”
While computer-related patents can take almost three years to process, the annual list shows where companies are seeking growth opportunities. More than 2,000 of IBM’s patents last year were related to its cloud and cognitive computing, many of which are in use and part of the Watson offering’s capabilities, Chief Innovation Officer Bernie Meyerson said. IBM consistently spends about 6 percent of its annual revenue on research and development — less than half that of the average U.S. technology company with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion.
“Cognitive and cloud becoming big currently shows that we’ve been working on them years and years back,” Meyerson said. “They’re very basic patents — these are foundational. They’re the basis on which lots of other stuff will get built.”
The number of patents issued dropped to 298,407 from a record high of 300,678 a year earlier, the first drop since 2007. The figures don’t include patents on designs or plant species.
Among the reasons for the decline may be stricter review by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is rejecting more requests, and a June 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made it harder to obtain patents on software and methods of doing business on the Internet, said Larry Cady, a senior analyst at IFI.
Inventions related to image data processing and recognition of data saw big increases, IFI’s data show. The car of the future also is driving innovation, with patents awarded on the topics of self-driving cars, on-board entertainment and crash avoidance systems. Patents tend to be concentrated among the larger companies, with the top 50 obtaining 26 percent of all patents.