These Firms Won the Most Patents in 2016

January 9, 2017, 2:08 PM UTC
Jared Lazarus/Feature Photo Service for IBM
IBM software engineer Jeremy Greenberg, 23, sketches out a patent he has pending at the company's headquarter's in Research Triangle Park, NC. (Jared Lazarus/Feature Photo Service for IBM)
Jared Lazarus/Feature Photo Serv Jared Lazarus/Feature Photo Serv

IBM earned a record 8,088 U.S. patents in 2016 thanks in part to the company’s research into artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. Meanwhile, other American U.S. tech companies, including Qualcomm and Google were among the other leaders in earning patents, which many see as a metric of innovation.

The figures, published by researcher IFI Claims Patent Services, also show Amazon (AMZN) posting a 46% increase in patenting activity as the Seattle company claimed 1,662 inventions last year. From a country perspective, U.S. firms led with 41% of all patents received, followed by Japan (28%) and South Korea (15%).

Here is a screenshot from the IFI report, which listed Apple as No. 11 for the second year in a row:


In addition to Amazon, several other companies posted significant increases in patent grants last year. “Big gainers in 2016 include Nokia, up 74%; Hyundai up 39%; China’s Huawei Technologies, up 50%; … and Intel, up 36% over 2015,” according to the IFI report.

IBM (IBM) has earned more patents than any other company for the past 24 years, according to IFI. The company’s Chief Innovation Officer, Bernie Meyerson, told Fortune that the company’s patent bounty is the result of a deliberate focus on R&D, especially in the field of artificial intelligence.

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“The emergence of the cognitive era helped us get a jump on nearly everyone. Watson didn’t happen when Jeopardy happened—it happened at least five years before,” said Meyerson, who added the company’s research into computer-driven analytics will result in major benefits in fields like health and supply chain management.

The annual patent numbers came out amid ongoing questions about the state of the U.S. patent system, which critics say grants too many weak patents and allows so-called “patent trolls” (firms that don’t produce anything but simply file patent lawsuits) to shake down productive companies. The patent system is also the subject of ongoing scrutiny by the Supreme Court, which recently appeared to hear an important venue case.

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