A new report has found that Cisco Systems, Intel and Samsung filed the most Internet of Things-related patents in the U.S. over the past nine years.
The report from Natick, Mass.-based VDC Research tracked U.S. patents from 2009 to 2017 that mentioned IoT use cases. Cisco came on top of the list with 200 IoT-related patent applications while Samsung had 151 and Intel had 136.
Trailing behind the three were Qualcomm (96), AT&T (84) and IBM (72). Tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and Google each had 30 or fewer patent applications in that time.
VDC's report shows that IoT-related patent filings have skyrocketed in the U.S. in the past five years. In 2013, there were only 155 patents filed, but that number climbed over the next three years, reaching 3,234 in 2016 (2017 numbers were left out because the data set was incomplete).
Chris Rommel, one of the report's authors, told CRN that his research shows that companies are investing much more in ioT and finding more significant use cases.
"I think that if you look for proxies for innovation, patents are a really good indicator," he said.
As for the number of IoT patents granted, the numbers remained in the single and double digits from 2009 to 2014. The number then climbed to 107 in 2015 and reached 1,334 in 2017. Samsung was granted the most patents last year (133) while Intel came in second place (109) and Cisco in third (91).
A majority of the IoT patents granted in 2017 were for communications and/or networking technologies. Cloud services and/or data handling processes and physical devices each accounted for about 15 percent to 20 percent of total patents. Software solutions, on the other hand, only accounted for roughly 10 percent to 15 percent.
While VDC's report shows a boom in IoT patents over the past five years, Rommel noted that some of the increase may be the result of companies redefining older categories, such as embedded systems, as IoT.
"We suspect that due to marketing buzz, they also are now more inclined to mention 'Internet of Things or 'IoT' use cases in their patent filings regardless of whether the technology being patented is specific to IoT," the report stated.
The report also noted that many patents filed and granted today are for incremental changes in products or services, demonstrating the incremental nature of innovation.
This use of IoT as an umbrella term to describe different kinds of physical devices connected to a network can sometimes serve as a barrier for certain customers, according to Jeff Murray, president of Control Point, a Scarborough, Maine-based operational technology solution provider that works with industrial manufacturers, semiconductor makers and municipalities.
"It's a classic case of the unknown piece," Murray told CRN. "So if you said, 'Are you looking for an Internet of Things solution?' to a vast majority of my customers, they would say absolutely not. If I said, 'Do you want a dashboard in your cloud that gives you a view into your production line?' they would say yes."