There's plenty of criticism of the U.S. patent system for granting intellectual property protections for ideas that aren't original enough, but that hasn't stopped the corporate patent frenzy.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted 219,614 patents in 2010, a 31 percent increase over 2009, according to statistics from IFI Claims, a division of Fairview Research that tracks patent grants.
As usual, IBM topped the list--this time with 5,896 patents, a 20 percent increase over 2009. Among those, Big Blue pointed to patents for monitoring and reporting earthquakes based on data from computer hard-drive accelerometers, for using short-range wireless communication among vehicles to provide traffic information, and for optoelectronic devices with light detectors for silicon photonics chips that communicate using light rather than electrical signals.
Next on the Top 10 list are Samsung Electronics, with 4,551 patents; Microsoft, with 3,094; Canon, with 2,552; Panasonic, with 2,482; Toshiba, with 2,246; Sony, with 2,150; Intel, with 1,653; LG Electronics, with 1,490; and Hewlett-Packard, with 1,480.
Patents have become a major battleground in competitive markets. Right now, mobile phone technology is at the center of a thicket of patent litigation that includes, among others, Motorola, Nokia, Microsoft, Apple, HTC, Oracle, Google, Samsung, Research In Motion, Sony Ericsson, Kodak, and LG Electronics.
So it's no surprise technology companies try to hoard as many patents as possible to deter patent lawsuits from rivals or to come out stronger in the cross-licensing deals that often settle such suits along with payments from one company to another.
This balance-of-power approach doesn't work when it comes to fighting lawsuits from intellectual-property companies; they typically lack actual products on the market, so a company that has been sued can't rely on countersuing for infringement of its own patents.
In the race to grab patents, just about anything is fair game. IBM has applied for a patent for a computerized patent-management system.
The application itself embodies all the complexities of today's patent and intellectual-property (IP) landscape. One claimed invention in the patent is:
A method of analyzing a component business model including a plurality of components, each of said plurality of components including at least one capability, said method including, for each of said plurality of components: determining whether an organization has said at least one capability from said plurality of components, said plurality of components being grouped into a strategic planning computer module for formulating business strategies for creating and managing inventions and IP rights, said strategic planning module including at least one electronic database having data for formulating said business strategies, an invent computer module for managing creation of said inventions based on said business strategies, an IP creation computer module for determining value of said inventions and creating an IP portfolio, said creating of said IP portfolio including creating said IP rights based on said determining of said value and said business strategies, an IP administration computer module for managing said IP rights based on said business strategies including extension, maintenance and retirement of said IP rights, measuring performance of said business strategies, creating and modifying budgets, and setting guidelines for IP counsel, a defend computer module for defending against infringements and invalidations of said IP rights based on said business strategies and monitoring market and competitor actions to develop risk management plans, an influence computer module including a standards influencing unit, a legal and regulatory influencing unit, and a policy influencing unit, and a capitalize computer module for identifying potential licensees and potential assignees of said IP rights, and managing licensing negotiations, cross-licensing negotiations, and assignment negotiations based on said business strategies; determining whether said organization needs said at least one capability; determining an ability of said organization to deliver said at least one capability; and generating a road map to enable said organization to at least one of create and improve said at least one capability.
Yes, if you could read that at all, you read it right: IBM is trying to patent computer technology to capitalize on patent portfolio, defend against patent-infringement attacks, and influence patent policy. Perhaps if the company is granted this sort of meta-patent, IBM will actually have something it can use to countersue an intellectual-property firm.