Qualcomm, Google and Apple achieve patent milestones

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) shifted into the list of top 10 U.S. patent awardees during 2013, while Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) both jumped into the top 20, according to IFI Claims Patent Services.

The analyst firm examined U.S. Patent and Trademark Office data for calendar year 2013 to come up with the rankings. Qualcomm moved up the list of patent winners during the year, going from 17th place in 2012 to ninth in 2013. The San Diego-based chipmaker was assigned 2,103 patents, or 62 percent more patents than it got during 2012.

IBM has sat at the top of the patent ranking list for 21 straight years. Its repeat performance in 2013 was attributable to a record-setting 6,809 patents, up 5 percent from 2012.

More than 2,000 patents back was second-place finisher Samsung, which snagged 4,675 patents. Canon, Sony and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) rounded out the list of top five patent winners. Microsoft, a perennial patent powerhouse, climbed up the ranking in 2013, moving from sixth place in 2012 to fifth place, with 2,660 patents awarded.

Google has also cranked up its patentable R&D efforts, leaping from No. 21 in 2012, when the company made its top 50 debut, to No. 11 in 2013. Rival Apple shifted upward from the No. 22 slot to No. 13 during 2013.

During 2013, Google snagged 1,851 patents, or 60 percent more year-over-year, while Apple won 1,775 patents, gaining 56 percent more year-over-year. 2013 was the first year either company ranked in the top 20. It was also the second year in a row that Google beat Apple for patents awarded.

IFI noted that Google and Apple have now dethroned longtime Silicon Valley patent leaders Hewlett-Packard and Intel.

"Google and Apple made moves because they have been in the thick of it, on all sides of patents, for a while now," Jeffery Frazier, a patent attorney with a private practice in Silicon Valley, told EE Times. "I think that, like it or not, you have to play in the patent system to participate in the world economy."

Despite its ongoing struggles in the smartphone marketplace, Canada's BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) had an impressive U.S. patent showing, raking in 1,334 patents, or 35 percent more year-over-year, and jumping nine places in the ranking to No. 20.

Sweden's Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and China's Huawei both made patent gains during the year, as well. Ericsson won 1,149 patent grants, enabling it to jump up 12 places to No. 23. Huawei ended the year ranked No. 51, up from No. 55 in 2012. "Huawei's patent grants increased by 28 percent and are likely to break into the Top 50 in 2014," said IFI.

However, Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU) had a disappointing showing, slipping out of the top 50 ranking as it dropped from No. 49 in 2012 to No. 54 in 2013.  

Cisco, meanwhile, dropped nine places to No. 40 in 2013, with its patent grants declining 7 percent. The company won 885 patents during 2013.

IFI CEO Mike Baycroft said candidates outside of the current top 50 patent grantees "that are likely to bubble up tomorrow" include Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and Huawei.

Overall, the USPTO issued a record 277,835 utility patents in 2013, an increase of some 10 percent over 2012 and the most issued in a single year, said IFI. The number of assignees also increased by more than 4,000. A total of 18 U.S. firms made the top 50 during 2013, up from 17 in 2012.

For more:
- see this IFI release, this release and this webpage
- see this EE Times article

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Article updated Feb. 28, 2015, to correct Alcatel-Lucent's ranking.