Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Monday, January 27, 2020
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Quantum Computing, ML Drive 2019 Patent Awards 

The dizzying pace of technology innovation often fueled by the growing availability of computing horsepower is underscored by the race to develop unique designs and application that can be patented. Among the goals of many of the companies we track is building up their intellectual property portfolios to provide a steady stream of licensing revenue when markets turn south.

The importance of IP portfolios is underscored by the growing number of annual surveys detailing global patent leaders, providing a glimpse as to where technology innovation is headed in the era of AI and quantum computing. A pair of surveys released this week reveal a changing patent landscape in which established leaders like Samsung and IBM continue to rack up patents on the order of hundreds per week while hyperscale suppliers like Microsoft, Google/Alphabet and Amazon Technologies continue to move up in the patent rankings.

IBM, which maintained its long-time patent dominance in one survey as measured in patents granted in a calendar year, is ranked second in another that includes subsidiaries. IBM stressed its advances in quantum computing.

In a patent ranking released Tuesday (Jan. 14) by IFI Claims Patent Services, IBM gained 9,262 patent grants last year, up 2 percent over 2018. Samsung Electronics ranked second, according to IFI, with 6,469 patents grants, up 11 percent over the previous year.

Samsung tops the list of companies with “active patent families” (76,638), IFI said.

Another survey released this week has it the other way around. Sqoop, a data journalism web site, ranks Samsung ahead of IBM based on the number of utility patents granted. Among the reasons is Sqoop’s methodology that includes patents received by subsidiary companies. That approach catapulted the Korean electronics giant ahead of IBM with more than 9,400 utility patents, defined as a “useful” invention that could yield applications.

“Without, including subsidiaries, you wouldn’t get an apples-to-apples comparison with other companies, like IBM, that make applications under one unified brand,” Sqoop founder Bill Hankes noted in a blog post releasing its 2019 patent rankings.

The competing surveys also flip the patent rankings for Intel Corp. and Microsoft. IFI places Microsoft Technology Licensing Inc. fourth (3,081), Intel fifth (3,020). Microsoft’s patent total represented a 31 percent jump over 2018.

When including subsidiary units, Sqoop ranks Intel fifth (3,501), Microsoft sixth (3,095) in utility patents granted last year. Sqoop’s top ten includes Google/Alphabet (ninth, with 2,665 patents) but not Amazon Technologies Inc. (2,421).

Amazon Technologies cracks the IFI top ten (2,427) while Google LLC is a distant 15th(2,102).

Along with utility patents, the Sqoop survey also stressed the growing importance of a separate design patent category. The patent tracker noted that the number of design patents that include product and packaging jumped 21 percent in 2019. Samsung led the design patent category with 605 patents granted. Apple (315) ranked fourth while Google/Alphabet placed eighth (190).

Among the fastest-growing technologies over the past year were quantum computing and machine learning, IFI reported. The application of HPC platforms to specific simulations included biological models like genome editing along with “knowledge-based” and mathematical models. Along with IBM, patent leaders in this category included Microsoft, Google, Intel and Facebook.

In one example, IBM was granted a patent for optimizing testing of quantum logic circuits.

“We expected U.S. grants to increase this year after a rise in applications last year but a surge of this magnitude is unusual,” said IFI CEO Mike Baycroft.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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