Ranking the Top US Patent Law Firms

One of the advantages of IFI CLAIMS Patent Services is the quality of our data – the result of years of editorial work that evolved to support advanced patent analytics. We work closely with our partners and clients to enable access to patent data that analysts transform into valuable insights into patent portfolios, technology trends, and IP market insights.

The yin yang between patent quantity and quality has long been an issue among innovative businesses. It has yet to be resolved. It is not a simple matter of those with a lot of patents must have more questionable ones, but high numbers do tend to beg the question: which patents are really important and to whom?  In addition to claims, factors like industry, timing, need and perception play an even increasing role in patent quality and value. – Bruce Berman, a principal in Brody Berman Associates, an IP communications firm that advises patent holders and managers and helps to position IP assets.

A recent analysis of the legal representatives associated with US patents demonstrated the importance of data quality while raising some interesting questions about exactly how we evaluate our top US IP law firms. A few Google searches, and you will find a several ranked lists of the top patent firms. Averyindex.com recently published a list of the top 100 patent firms by the number of patent attorneys with Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner (Finnegan) taking the top spot with 276 Patent Attorneys or Agents. http://www.averyindex.com/top_patent_firms.php

Similar to how IFI ranked the Top US Assignees, we ranked the top US  firms based on the number of US utility patents granted in 2011 for which they were the legal representative. Here are the 2011 Top 50 Patent Law Firmsthat account for over 23% of the 2011 US granted patents.

Comparing our results to other lists and counts at the USPTO surface inevitable anomalies. One real puzzle is why several firms like Nixon & Vanderhye, that ranked #11 on our list, didn't appear on other lists at all?  Most of the data differences are likely the result of spelling variations. Like assignee names in patent data, legal representative data needs to be cleaned in order to accommodate spelling or name variations. For example in the case of Birch Stewart Kolasch and Birch, there are 29 name variations for 2011 alone.

In cases where the patent counts are higher than those reported by IFI CLAIMS, it is possible that source aggregates data from an acquisition or from some sort of subsidiary. Without clear explanations or reasonable access to the underlying it is nearly impossible to resolve these data discrepancies. However at IFI CLAIMS we'll dig as deep as needed to explain and expose the differences.

The top patent law firm for 2011 is Oblon Spivak McClelland Maier & Neustadt (Oblon) with 5613 US granted patents. Finnegan is ranked #7 with 2089 US granted patents.

Averyindex.com ranks Oblon #22 with only 82 registered patent attorneys and agents. How does one explain the dramatic discrepancy between the performance of Finnegan vs Oblon when you consider the number of patent grants per attorney?

For both firms their top 10 assignees are almost all non-US companies and these clients account for almost 60% of their 2011 grants. We could dig further into the priority information, but it is likely that many of the applications are written off-shore, translated, and reviewed and filed by the US firms.

Finnegan     Oblon  
Assignee Grants   Assignee Grants
Toshiba Corp JP 338   Toshiba Corp JP 1141
Sony Corp JP 179   Ricoh Co Ltd JP 571
Caterpillar Inc 152   Sony Corp JP 502
AOL Inc 111   Tokyo Electron Ltd JP 264
Toyota Jidosha K K JP 109   Toyota Jidosha K K JP 217
L'Oreal S A FR 82   Mitsubishi Denki K K JP 215
SAP AG DE 66   NTT DoCoMo Inc JP 126
Research In Motion Ltd CA 53   BASF SE DE 115
Huawei Technologies Co Ltd CN 52   SNECMA FR 104
Telecom Italia SpA IT 51   Asahi Glass Co Ltd JP 94

Taking another perspective we can look at single assignee like Toshiba Corp and see that there 2011 patent filings were managed by 40 different legal representatives. Even this simple report starts off with almost 90 representatives more than half of which are name variations on the 40 firms. Oblon accounts for 45% of their 2011 grants and the following 10 firms account for over 90%:

Toshiba Legal Representative Pie Chart 2011 US Grants


 

Toshiba's Top US Legal Representatives – 2011 US Grants
Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, L.L.P. 1141
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, L.L.P. 338
Turocy & Watson, LLP 318
Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear LLP 127
Patterson & Sheridan, LLP 119
Blakely, Sokoloff, Taylor & Zafman LLP 90
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP 69
Nixon & Vanderhye, P.C. 57
Foley & Lardner LLP 56
Ohlandt, Greeley, Ruggiero & Perle, L.L.P. 43

For both Oblon and Finnegan their top 20 US classes (to 3 digits) account for almost 50% of the granted patents. However the firms have only 10 common classes in their respective top 20 which of course suggests some level of specialization.

Finnegan     Oblon  
US CLASS Grants   US CLASS Grants
705 99   257 326
438 91   399 244
709 79   365 195
257 76   386 191
370 73   438 171
707 71   428 168
514 59   430 133
382 59   370 130
455 58   375 126
008 51   348 121
424 47   382 116
701 46   455 112
345 42   701 110
060 40   514 110
435 36   435 91
600 33   429 87
704 32   358 82
348 31   369 79
715 28   709 70
430 28   359 69

(note: you can look up US patent classes at: www.uspto.gov/web/patents/classification/)

You can see certainly see further evidence of specialization such as class 705 (DATA PROCESSING: FINANCIAL, BUSINESS PRACTICE, MANAGEMENT, OR COST/PRICE DETERMINATION) where Finnegan was involved in more than twice the 2011 grants than Oberon. And as you can continue to drill down into the data examining correlations between inventors, classification, claims counts, latency between filing and grant, citation counts, etc. Often claims counts are presented as a factor in patent valuation. Average claims counts vary a great deal depending on the domain, but they may also contribute to insights into the performance or efficiency of one firm vs another. Why do Oblon’s patents average 13.7 claims per patent while Finnegan’s average almost 17.4?

Good insight into to questions like these depend on deeper analysis that requires high quality data. Modern data analytics requires rich interfaces like CLAIMS Direct and a team of experts that can help you define the dimensions of your problem getting you the data you need when you need it. Check out our webinars or contact us to learn more about how IFI CLAIMS Patent Services can help you streamline your patent analysis with quality patent data.

Edited