“During 2021, Chinese entities increased their share of U.S. patent grants by 10%, to 20,679 patents, and four Chinese entities ranked among IFI CLAIMS’ Top 50 list.”
Today, patent data analytics firm IFI CLAIMS released its annual report of the top U.S. patent recipients and active patent family owners, providing the IP world with a look at the patent ownership landscape that developed throughout the course of 2021. For yet another year, information technology R&D giant International Business Machines (IBM) earned the top spot among entities obtaining patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), while South Korean tech conglomerate Samsung Electronics enjoys the largest portfolio of global active patent families.
Drop in U.S. Patent Grants Likely COVID-Related—But Tough to See Where Slowdown Occurred
In terms of overall U.S. patent grants, IFI CLAIMS’ survey notes that patent issuances dropped by about 7.5% during 2021 to 327,329 grants, the greatest percentage decline since 2018. While last year’s IFI CLAIMS data on U.S. patent grants actually showed an increase in patent grants during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the significant decrease in U.S. patent grants through 2021 indicates that the global health crisis has slowed the gears of the nation’s patent system. However, U.S. patent grants have generally trended upward since 2012, when the USPTO issued 253,155 U.S. patents.
According to IFI CLAIMS CEO Mike Baycroft, the drop in U.S. patent grant numbers is more than likely owing to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it was tough to tell from the raw numbers exactly where that slowdown was occurring within the patent system. “It’s hard to believe that the USPTO isn’t being impacted by the pandemic, but you would also expect to see that impact with the applicants themselves who may be struggling with work-from-home challenges in terms of keeping up with the patent prosecution process,” Baycroft said. Given the 18-month lead time between the filing of a patent application and the USPTO’s publication of that application, it’s likely that published U.S. patent applications, which only saw a 1% decrease during 2021 to 410,093 publications, according to IFI CLAIMS, could continue to decrease in future reports as the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects become clearer.
Among individual entities, IBM’s 8,682 U.S. patent grants during 2021 represents a nearly 5% decrease over the Armonk, NY-based tech developers total U.S. patent grants during 2020. IBM still enjoyed a sizable lead over second-place Samsung, which received 6,366 U.S. patents last year, and Japanese tech corporation Canon, which ranked third with 3,021 U.S. patent grants through 2021. While the top 10 U.S. patent earning entities included the same firms ranking in the top 10 recipients for 2020, both Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (#4, 2,798 U.S. patents) and Huawei (#5, 2,770 U.S. patents) moved up four spots from the 2020 rankings, which was mainly due to larger declines in the number of U.S. patent grants earned by other companies on the list.
Better Analysis of Chinese Entities Creates More Accurate Ownership Data for Global 250
Despite the decline in overall patent grants, China continues to become a much more important player in the U.S. innovation ecosystem. During 2021, Chinese entities increased their share of U.S. patent grants by 10% to 20,679 patents and four Chinese entities ranked among IFI CLAIMS’ Top 50 list: Huawei; BOE Technology Group (#11, 2,135 U.S. patents); Advanced New Technologies (#43, 780 U.S. patents); and Guangdong Oppo (#48, 719 U.S. patents). The number of U.S. patents being granted to U.S. companies declined by 8.3% during 2021 but U.S. entities still earned 150,801 patents last year, more than half of all issued U.S. patents and more than three times the total earned by entities from Japan (47,105 U.S. patents), home to entities earning the second-largest total of U.S. patents.
Baycroft noted that the increasing number of Chinese companies in the Top 50 was surprising, but that the large reported totals of active patent families for Chinese entities in the Global 250 list was a new insight into existing data rather than a trend reflective of actual growth in patent filings among Chinese firms. Since their last patent analytics report was released in early 2021, IFI CLAIMS assigned a team to map company names with Chinese characters to standard character names, account for misspellings in company names and tie those results to corporate hierarchies to produce a much more accurate Global 250 list, which tracks corporate ownership of global active patent portfolios, rather than assignees of U.S. patent grants.
“We’ve had accurate numbers for Huawei because many people are interested in their patent portfolio, but nobody ever came to us and asked about the Chinese Academy of Sciences,” Baycroft said, referencing the second-place finisher in this year’s Global 250 list with 78,415 active patent families worldwide. While Samsung finished first in the Global 250 again with 90,416 active patent families, other Chinese entities in the top 10 of this year’s list included Midea Group (#3, 58,495 active patent families); Huawei Investment and Holding Co. (#4, 48,307); China Petrochemical Corp. (#5, 45,362 active patent families); China State Construction Engineering Corp. (#6, 42,715 active patent families); and Gree Electric Appliances Inc. (#7, 42,077 active patent families). “Some of these Chinese entities have thousands of subsidiaries underneath what looks like a simple Global 250 list, and Chinese companies are reorganizing all the time so the analytics team had to figure out who those underlying entities were,” Baycroft said.
IFI CLAIMS’ report also provides insights into the fastest growing technologies based on analysis of recently published U.S. patent applications. The Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) code seeing the greatest compound annual growth rate (CAGR) increase in published patent applications between 2017 and 2021 was G06N 3, computer systems based on biological models. Increasing at a CAGR of 54.5%, these patent applications cover computer processing technologies that are modeled on human brain behavior. In second-place with a CAGR of 42.5% was A01H 6, angiosperms/flowering plants, which Baycroft indicated was a reflection of heavy corporate investment into crop sciences by firms like Monsanto. “These companies are heavily invested in seed strains to improve crop volume and protection against insects,” Baycroft said. “It’s surprising to see so much R&D activity in this area, but on the other hand it’s a very competitive industry.”