U.S. patent grants issued in 2022 dropped to their lowest level since 2018, and South Korean electronics titan Samsung took the top spot from longtime leader IBM as East made gains on West among the Top 50 patent assignees during the past year. Nonetheless, patent applications hit an all-time high in 2022 as the United States emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic – a harbinger for a resurgence in innovation and grants over the next one to two years.
These are among the findings by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, a Digital Science company which compiles and tracks data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and other patent-issuing agencies around the globe. The data can be found in the newly published 2022 U.S. Top 50 and IFI Global 250 patent rankings.
Samsung takes the lead from IBM
Samsung came in atop the annual IFI Top 50 patent earners with longtime leader IBM in second place. This is the first time a company other than IBM has been in the top slot since 1993. Based on the data, IBM’s U.S. patent grants decreased in 2022, going from 8,681 in 2021 to 4,398 last year, a nearly 50 percent regression. But even Samsung, with 6,248 grants, saw a moderate decline (2 percent) from the prior year.
Still with one of the strongest U.S. patent portfolios, IBM’s new placement on this year’s list is attributable, according to IBM’s blog, to its heightened focus since 2020 on prioritizing open source, collaboration and partnerships, and advancing the state of the art around the company’s key technology areas including hybrid cloud, AI, quantum computing, semiconductors and security.
Following Samsung and IBM, the top 10 patent earners were Taiwan Semiconductor, Huawei Technologies, Canon, LG Electronics, Qualcomm, Intel, Apple and Toyota Motor.
The past year marks the third straight to see declines in patent grants, since the start of the pandemic. Across the board, U.S. patent grants declined just over 1 percent from 2021, representing a vigorous rebound following a 7 percent dip the prior year. Grants dropped from 327,321 to 323,015. Published patent applications, meanwhile, hurtled from 410,092 in 2021 to a record 417,922 last year, a 2 percent increase and the continuation of a five-year run of rising USPTO requests. Highlights from the full analysis and an overview of trends appear on the IFI website.
“Everything was trending upward until COVID hit, but grants have been declining. This might be due to the fact the USPTO faces a growing backlog of applications, some 700,000 currently, up from 540,000 unexamined patents in 2018,” said Mike Baycroft, CEO of IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. “But the continued growth in applications is encouraging for innovation. First comes the filing, then typically 12-18 months later the application becomes public, then in another 18 months the grant is issued, so we expect to see a post-COVID upturn in the next couple of years.”
A West-to-East shift in the Top 50
Looking at the Top 50 alone, IFI’s data noted a shift from West to East. In addition to Samsung’s ascendance, Asian-based companies on the list earned 14 percent more patents than Western countries in 2022 (41,055 vs. 35,365), far eclipsing Asia’s edge in 2021 of just 1 percent. Japan, China and South Korea alone accounted for 40,114 patents, compared to 32,130 for United States companies.
A total of three Chinese companies made the Top 50: Huawei at #4, BOE Technology Corp. at #11, and Guangdong Oppo sliding into the #43 spot, formerly occupied by its national counterpart Advanced New Technologies, which fell off the list in 2022.
U.S. awards majority of patents outside America
A stunning 56 percent of U.S. grants in 2022 did not go to U.S. firms. American companies, however, led among patent grantees, earning 142,703 patents, or 44 percent of all patents issued by the USPTO (vs. 46 percent in 2021) and more than three times as many as its closest national competitor, Japan (46,504). Chinese firms were third, with 24,538 grants during the last 12 months. South Korea (22,359) and Germany (14,746) rounded out the top five countries represented. Of the five countries to see an uptick in patent grants in the past year, China was the only one with double-digit growth, standing head and shoulders above the rest with almost 19 percent more than in 2021.
U.S. stalwarts lose position
Among U.S. companies, GE (-11), Texas Instruments (-7), AT&T (-9), Boeing (-8), Ford (-4), Microsoft (-6), Intel (-2), and Apple (-2) fell lower on the Top 50 list, while Dell (+18), and Hewlett-Packard Development Co. (+12) gained considerably in the rankings. Applied Materials and Capital One both entered the top 50 at #44 and #45, respectively. Amazon and Halliburton Energy Services were the only American companies that held their positions from the prior year, with Amazon earning 1,863, down 4 percent, and Halliburton earning 906, up 4 percent. The biggest non-American risers in the Top 50 were Japan’s Murata Manufacturing Company (#38) and Brother Industries (#49), which both leaped 10 spots from 2021.
Autonomous vehicle tech is hot; earth drilling keeps rocking
Technology related to autonomous vehicles (e.g., self-driving cars) ascended to the No. 1 spot among IFI’s Fastest Growing Technologies list last year, despite failing to crack the top 10 classes the year before. “Drive Control Systems for Autonomous Road Vehicles” saw a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 64.3 percent for the period 2018-2022. Of note is that while “Computing Based on Biological Models” dropped to No. 4 from its perch at No. 1 last year, Artificial Intelligence research has pervaded multiple patent categories, including Earth Drilling, “Quantum Computers” and “Machine Learning.”
Rounding out the top Fastest Growing Technologies were “Electrical Digital Data Processing” (CAGR 33.9%); “Special Features Related to Earth Drilling Including AI and Simulation Models” (CAGR 32.5%); “Computing Based on Biological Models” (CAGR 32.1%); and “Electrically Operated Smoking Devices” (CAGR 31.3%). Interestingly, “Cigars, Cigarettes” also made the Top 10 (CAGR 28.3%). Who would have thought in 2022 that patents for Earth Drilling and Cigars/Cigarettes would be among the fastest growing categories?
IFI noted that “Special Features Related to Earth Drilling,” which focuses on helping improve earth drilling for oil and gas had moved up from 6th in 2021 to 3rd in 2022. This led IFI to look at U.S. grants for “Green” patents which appear to outpace Earth Drilling by more than 2 to 1. Upon closer inspection IFI found that the majority of grants (66%) in the Green class are for mitigating technologies needed to battle effects of fossil fuels. Only about one-third of Green patents are for truly renewable energies (solar, wind, green hydrogen, water, etc.) where 2022 data show that Earth Drilling grants actually outpaced them by 27 percent.
“As far as patent activity is concerned, we’re not yet seeing a shift toward renewable energy, and some of the fast growing sub-technology areas are focused on improving and more efficiently harvesting traditional fossil fuel sources,” said Baycroft.
Japan and Panasonic dominate total global patent holdings
As of January 3, 2023, Japanese companies owned more than one in three of all worldwide patent “families,” with 1.5 million or 40 percent of the Global 250. China is second with 25 percent and the U.S. is third with 16 percent. Panasonic leads the IFI Global 250 list with 94,341 patent families, and Samsung was just behind. Hitachi, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Canon rounded out the top five.
A patent 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. The IFI Global 250 list is a look back at total active patent families owned by a single company, not just patents earned in any given year.
Japan also had 92 representative companies (37%) on the Global 250, well ahead of the U.S. (55 companies; 22%) and China (45 companies; 18%). Germany, France and South Korea had far fewer representative companies in the third, fourth and fifth positions.
IBM was the highest-ranking American company on this list, coming in at No. 16 with 43,014 patent families. Other U.S. concerns on this list included Microsoft (30th; 31,563 families), GE (38th; 27,008), Intel (44th; 23,758), Alphabet/Google (46th; 22,935) and Amazon (76th; 13,519).
Patent activity provides valuable insight into companies’ R&D activity for researchers, analysts, and investors. It speaks to productivity and IP strategy, and frequently reveals technology trends and the competitive landscape within various industries. Often the true value of a company lies with its intellectual properties, so examining patent assets is a key tool in gauging the intangible assets of publicly traded companies.