Google and Apple Surge Ahead in Race for Patents

Google, Apple, and other tech outfits continued their patent spree in 2013, surging past industrial giants like GM and General Electric in total number of patents awarded.
Each year, research outfit IFI compiles a list of the companies that receive the most patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and in the year just ended, Google nearly broke the top 10, jumping from 21st place to 11th place in the rankings. Apple jumped from 22nd to 13th.
Google has long called for reforms to the patent systems, but like any large company, it has come to realize that it needs a vast patent portfolio, if only to defend itself against attack. It’s already under attack from Apple, Oracle, and others on the software front, and as it moves even further into hardware — a move exemplified by this week’s acquisition of home automation company Nest — the company will have to defend its gear as well.
In fact, Nest has already faced patent infringement suits from Honeywell and First Alert, and as the company expands its product line, it will surely face more.
As Google and Apple climbed the charts, most of the top 10 stood still. IBM once again took first place in the IFI patent ranking, and Korean electronics giants Samsung and LG held onto 2nd and 10th place respectively. But American chip maker Qualcomm jumped into the upper tier. Hard at work on computer chips that mimic the structure of the human brain, the company jumped from 19th place in the rankings to 9th place, staying ahead of Google and passing General Electric, GM, and HP to take its place in the top ten.
Here’s the full top 10:
  1. International Business Machines Corp
  2. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
  3. Canon K K
  4. Sony Corp
  5. Microsoft Corp
  6. Panasonic Corp
  7. Toshiba Corp
  8. Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd
  10. LG Electronics Inc KR
While patents aren’t necessarily a good indicator of company innovation, they are vitally important in the ongoing tussles between tech companies large and small — not mention the defense against patent trolls, outfits that exist solely to make money from intellectual property lawsuits. From Apple vs. Samsung to Yahoo vs. Facebook to just about everybody vs. Google, controlling patents has never been more important.
But that could be changing. Just this week, New Egg scored a major victory over frivolous patent suits when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal from Soverain Software in its case against the e-commerce outfit. A circuit court had already ruled that Soverain’s electronic shopping cart patents should never have been awarded in the first place.
As it stands, however, the patent arms race is still on.

By Klint Finley

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