IBM received the most patents in 2020. Here’s the rest of the top 20

January 12, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

IBM held its longtime place as the top recipient of U.S. patents in 2020 with 9,130 inventions, followed by Samsung, Canon, and Microsoft. Others in the top 10 include Apple and Intel, according to research firm IFI.

While the total number of issued patents dropped slightly from a record of 354,428 in 2019, published patent applications ticked upward, suggesting intellectual property remains as hot a commodity as ever. The pandemic does not appear to have had an immediate effect on patent volume—though it’s too soon to know for sure as new patent applications are only published after 18 months.

IFI’s research also includes a section on the top 10 fastest-growing new technologies that appear in patent applications. Some of the results, which cover 2016 to 2020, are not surprising: Patents related to the buzzy fields of machine learning and quantum computing account for the No. 4 and No. 5 slots, respectively.

More surprising is the second fastest-growing category, “electronic smoking devices,” which comprises a variety of vaping patents, most of which were obtained by tobacco giants Altria and Philip Morris.

The fastest-growing category overall, which is determined by codes assigned by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is one titled “computer systems based on biological models.” The category, for which IBM received 2,789 patents last year, appears to span a wide variety of inventions related to so-called neural networks and other techniques that imitate brain functions. Two examples of such patents, issued to IBM and Microsoft, are described below:

The third fastest-growing category of patented new technology is titled “angiosperms—new flowering patents” and is dominated by Monsanto and other agricultural firms, according to IFI.

While patents are often associated with innovation, they can also prove controversial. In recent years, critics have claimed the U.S. patent office has been issuing patents that are too weak and can thus fall into the hands of so-called patent trolls—firms that don’t produce anything but make a business of demanding payments from companies that do in order to license their technology. The issue, as well as related ones involving patent validity, has been the subject of numerous Supreme Court decisions in the past decade.

Here is a list of the top 20 patent recipients for 2020, including the number of patents they have received.

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