IBM Claims Patent Crown Again

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IBM, the perennial patent powerhouse, has done it again.

In 2001, the company lead the pack with 3,411 U.S. patents issued, up 20 percent from the previous record figure of 2,886 set in 2000, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

For the ninth consecutive year, IBM received more patents than any other private-sector organization, according to a statement from the patent office.

NEC came in second with 1,954 patents, followed by Canon Kabushiki Kaisha with 1,877, Micron Technology with 1,643, Samsung Electronics with 1,450, and Matsushita Electrical Industrial with 1,440.

IBM's Software Group garnered 524 patents, according to the company. IBM Data Management Solutions weighed in with 132, IBM WebSphere with 222, Lotus with 24 and Tivoli with 27.

For example, for its Discovery Link software, IBM came up with a way for scientists to access genetic data, typically stored in many and often incompatible forms, with a single query.

In a release trumpeting the news, IBM also cited The Lotus Conversational Interface, which would let users manage their inbox and dictate e-mail messages and control multiple applications.

The patent race has become a PR battle, with companies striving to outline their successes. And patent-infringement lawsuits are springing up across the tech landscape. Some skeptics say it is far from clear whether these vendors really profit from their work. "I'd like to know how much of this patented stuff actually ends up in products that people really buy," said one naysayer.

But others say IBM has has been more focused on funneling patented technology into real-life products. "IBM's R and D is being more disciplined . . . although some percentage of their R and D investment continues to flow to basic research and 'blue-sky' stuff, they've either shifted the ratio between blue-sky and more commercially useful stuff or they're being more disciplined about making sure the research they do will be useful to IBM strategies," said Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates, a consultant in Narberth, Pa.

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