Despite Pandemic, Patent Activity Remains Strong

IBM Again Tops Annual U.S. Patent List; Samsung Leads in Total Global Patent Assets

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Jan. 12, 2021 — U.S. patent grants ticked downward only slightly in 2020 from the prior year, despite the global pandemic, according to IFI CLAIMS Patent Services which just published its annual IFI U.S. Top 50 patent recipients using 2020 United States Patent and Trademark Office data. IFI also once again compiled the IFI Global 250 which looks across the world’s major patent authorities to reveal the top holders of active patent assets.

Total U.S. patent grants declined less than 1 percent from 2019, going from 354,428 to 352,013. Patent applications, however, rose nearly 5 percent from 2019 to 2020, continuing an upward trend over the past four years. Highlights from the full analysis and an overview of trends appear on the IFI website.

The Top 50 and related rankings from IFI provide insight into the most innovative companies and R&D organizations. The information is culled from thousands of new patent documents daily, and with the data standardized for quick and accurate analysis.

IBM, the perpetual leader in U.S. patents, once again topped the U.S. Top 50, with 9,130 grants, down 1 percent from 2019. Among companies based outside America, Samsung Electronics earned the most U.S. patents, 6,415, placing it No. 2 on the list. Canon Inc., Microsoft, Intel, Taiwan Semiconductor, LG Electronics, Apple, Huawei Technologies, and Qualcomm rounded out the top 10 patent assignees during the past year.

All except Taiwan Semiconductor and Qualcomm were in the top 10 last year. Amazon stood just outside the elite 10, rising four spots from 15th place in 2019 to 11th place in 2020, with 2,244 patent grants.

Kia Motors, the South Korean car manufacturer, was one of only 19 companies on the list to increase its patent count during the past 12 months, going from 921 grants in 2019 to 1,322 in 2020. That 43 percent leap led the pack, with Sharp (ranked 32nd) rising sharply by 27 percent and Taiwan Semiconductor (ranked 6th) increasing its patent count by 21 percent. Huawei, the only representative of China in the Top 10 (ranked 9th), logged 14 percent more patents in 2020.

While Kia had the most upward movement on the U.S. list, moving from 41st place in 2019 to 24th in 2020, GM Global Technology Operations slipped furthest, from 25th to the 48th spot, a 39 percent drop in grants. Halliburton Energy Services and Toshiba were second and third worst performers, slipping by 24 percent and 18 percent respectively. Amazon’s patent activity declined 7 percent.

Cumulatively, non-U.S. companies and organizations had the majority share of new U.S. patent grants last year at 53 percent. The U.S. received the lion’s share of any single country though with 164,379 overall. That was 47 percent of all patents granted and more than three times the number earned by Japanese companies (No. 2 with 52,429). South Korea held the No. 3 slot with 22,400, while Chinese concerns ranked fourth on the list, with 18,792 grants.

Fastest Growing Technologies

The fastest growing technology based on patent applications – a strong indicator of what’s coming down the pike – is Computer Systems Based on Biological Models, which saw a 67 percent increase from 2016-20. This hot area of computing uses brain biology as an inspiration and includes Big Tech stalwarts such as Google, Microsoft and Intel. Another area, Electrical Smoking Devices, saw a 55 percent increase over the same period. Other fast-movers include Machine Learning, Quantum Computing, Auto-pilots/Navigation for Vehicles, and 3D Printing. To view the full report, visit the 2020 Top 10 Fastest-Growing Technologies published today.

Overall, U.S. patent activity was down slightly last year, despite the pandemic. This is a minor downward tick in what’s been a largely upward trajectory we’ve seen over the past decade, and it’s still 13 percent higher than what we saw in 2018,” said Mike Baycroft, CEO of IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. “Another positive indicator is that published pre-grant applications saw a nominal increase in 2020. But we’ll have to wait at least another year before we can determine if the pandemic had any impact.”

Samsung Leads IFI Global 250 with Most Current Holdings

While IBM may lead U.S. calendar-year grants, Samsung, headquartered in South Korea, holds by far the most active patent assets in the world with 80,577, 5 percent more than in 2019 and more than twice that of IBM, which ranks second on the IFI Global 250 with 38,541. Canon, with 36,161, is a close third, and Microsoft and Robert Bosch GmbH round out the top 5.

IFI’s Global 250 ranking is based on currently held active patent assets as of December 31, 2020. It includes patent assets held in all of the major patent jurisdictions including the U.S., Europe, China, Japan and others. It also is based on “ultimate ownership” where subsidiaries and other owned entities are rolled up under the parent. Using this methodology, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd is not a single entity but a collection of 155 subsidiaries owned by Samsung. Another distinction is that it looks at active patent families where a family is a collection of global patent filings related to a single invention. As a result, a patent for the same invention filed in multiple jurisdictions is only counted once.

Patent activity is a valuable financial indicator for researchers, analysts, and investors who seek insight into companies’ R&D productivity and clues to IP strategy, as well as technology trends and the competitive landscape within various industries. Often the true value of a company lies with its intellectual properties. Examining patent assets is a key tool in gauging the intangible assets of publicly traded companies.

To create your own analysis, visit the IFI CLAIMS Top 1000, a free tool which uses data from the top 1000 companies that received U.S. patents in 2020. The tool shows live data for 2021 and offers interactive features that allow users to create and sort their own lists using a variety of filters.

About IFI CLAIMS Patent Services/Fairview Research

IFI CLAIMS Patent Services uses proprietary data architecture to produce the industry’s most accurate patent database. The CLAIMS Direct platform allows for the easy integration of applications, other data sets, and analysis software. Headquartered in New Haven, Conn., with a satellite office in Barcelona, Spain, IFI CLAIMS is a division of Fairview Research. For more information, visit