2016 Patent Trends and Insights

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IBM and Samsung Up; Google and Apple Steady

IBM saw a nearly 10% increase in US utility grants in 2016. IBM saw significant percentage increases in CPC patent classes G06F (Electrical Digital Data Processing)—18% and H04L (Transmission of Digital Information)—25%. These are the areas where most of IBM's patent grants are classified. Samsung's grant count increased almost 9% with large gains in G06F and H04W (Wireless Communications Networks).


Google held its #5 ranking with no change to its US utility patent count.  Apple held its #11 ranking, but saw an 8% increase in grants.  and Apple held their 2015 ranking positions at #5 and #11, showing modest gains in their totals.  The most frequently patented technologies are Computers (G06F), Transmission of Digital Information (H04L), Wireless Communications Networks (H04W) and Pictorial Communication (H04N).  Like IBM and Samsung, they are firmly in the computer and telecommunications space. 

Big Movers & New Entities: The biggest mover was GlobalFoundaries appearing at #22.  GlobalFoundaries received 1,407 utility grants in 2016 compared to 609 in 2015.  GlobalFoundaries is registered in the Cayman Islands with operations in Santa Clara California. 

The BOE Technology Group appears in the Top 50 for the first time—debuting at #40.  The semiconductor display technology firm is based in Beijing. 

Nokia Technologies appears at #49. 

Intel, Microsoft Technology Licensing, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Amazon, Huawei Technologies and Hyundai Motors all made substantial gains in their ranking and number of grants. 

Canon’s grant count declined by 11%, but they maintained their #3 ranking.  Sony, Toshiba, Ricoh, Brother Industries, Honda and Sharp all saw declines of over 10% in what was a down year for Japan. 

In 2016, technology leader Hewlett Packard split into Hewlett Packard Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.  Hewlett Packard Enterprise Development LP did not make the Top 50, with an IFI ranking of #82.  Hewlett Packard Development Co LP fell from #22 to #96, reflecting the split.

Applications:  The number of US patent pre-grant publications (published applications) declined slightly in 2016 to 379,858 from 381,424 in 2015.  This breaks a longstanding trend of increasing published applications.  This contrasts with the slight increase in grants in 2016.

Countries: The IFI CLAIMS Top 50 represents the top recipients of US utility patents.  While these are US patents, many of the companies represented in the Top 50 are based in foreign countries.  The charts below ranks countries represented in the Top 50.  Note that Japan's large presence is declining and China's presence is growing. 

Classifications:  The USPTO is standardizing its patent classification system to the international Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system.  The most popular CPC codes and the year over year changes are shown below.  Data processing, cell phone and telecommunications patents are the most popular.  


2016 saw growth in most technologies areas.  The common patent classification code H04W (wireless communications networks) saw an increase of almost 10%.  Business method patents declined significantly in 2015 from 2014.  That decline continued as classification G06Q decreased slightly in 2016.  

A fifteen year chart of the leading US CPC patent classes is shown below.  The growth in G06F is striking. 

Automotive: The automotive sector is interesting.  As a group, the leading vehicle manufacturers increased their grants by 2.8%.  Gains by Ford, GM and Korea's Hyundai were offset by losses by Japan's Toyota and Honda. 

As a group, the leading technology categories are:
  • Vehicles including vehicle control systems and engine mountings (B60): 2650 grants in 2016, a 6% increase
  • Climate Change Mitigation (Y02): 1861 grants, down 6%
  • Combustion Engines (F02): 1049 grants, up 8%
Among the other categories with fewer than 1,000 patents for the group:
  • Metal Working (Y10T/29) was down 14% at 236 grants. 
  • Transmissions, Clutches and Brakes (F16) were down 9%
  • Batteries (H01M) were down slightly with 588 patents in 2016
Among the auto manufacturers, Computers (G06) were up slightly to 321 grants.  Telecommunications (H04) were up 71%, with 293 patents.  These numbers for grants are smaller than one might expect and are much smaller than the counts for more basic technologies—engines for example (1,049 grants in 2016). 

Electric Power Supplies and Charging (H02J) was up 12% to 169 grants.  This suggests work in electric vehicles.  Again, these numbers are smaller than one might expect.