According to a recent news release from patent database firm IFI Patent Intelligence, IBM has garnered the top spot in terms of the number of patents awarded by the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2007. According to IFI's report, IBM topped the list with 3148 patents. Samsung was a distant second (with 2725), while Microsoft managed to jump into the top 10, landing at the sixth spot with 1637 patents.

Other IT vendors making the list included Intel (5th with 1865 patents), Micron (9th with 1476), HP (10th with 1470), and Texas Instruments (17th with 803). The rest of the top 25 was dominated by Japanese firms like Samsung, Canon, Matsushita, Sony, Hitachi, and Fujitsu. IFI says that the overall number of patents filed in 2007 (157,284) represents a 9.5 percent decrease from 2006. Last year was noteworthy for being the year with the most awarded patents on record.

"While 2007 didn’t bring any marked improvements in terms of reducing America’s backlog of patents pending, it wasn’t far off the annual average of the past seven years either," said Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI Patent Intelligence. "Although the total number of patents issued is down from 2006’s record high, it did beat 2005’s relatively low showing. Overall, it’s fair to say that 80 percent of the top 35 organizations were down versus the previous year."

So what does all this mean? It's clear that IBM has an impressive ability to not only generate patents, but to also derive revenue from them. According to a story by Bruce Bigalow at the San Diego Union Tribune, IBM realizes a substantial amount of revenue from their patent business--IBM holds roughly 40,000 U.S. patents and "usually gets about 3,000 more each year." According to Bigelow, IBM also "generates more than $1 billion each year in technology licensing revenue."

Perhaps more interesting from an IT perspective is the recent arrival of Microsoft in the upper ranks of patent holders, a development that shouldn't be lost on Google, VMware and other Microsoft competitors. Large numbers of patents generally can indicate that a company has invested heavily in their R&D efforts, which may often be realized in products and services that arrive on the market years from now. While Microsoft may still be playing catch up to Google and VMware in their respective markets, these patent numbers may indicate that it's far too early to dismiss Microsoft as a perpetual also-ran in fast-growing markets like search and virtualization.

IFI Patent Intelligence - 2007 Report