IBM found itself on top of the U.S. patent rankings again in 2012, amassing nearly 1,400 more patent grants than its closest competitor (Samsung) and more than doubling third-place Canon. While this is not an altogether surprising development, the strategies that have enabled such longevity are worth noting.
With vast technical resources and surging revenue reports, IBM set a personal record last year with 6,478 patent grants. But as The New York Times noted, this now 20-year run began at a time when the company was in somewhat of a tailspin in the early 1990s. Even as harsh financial realities forced cutbacks across the board, IBM left research and development budgets virtually untouched.
Today, the company takes in an estimated $1 billion annually from licensing IP, according to the Times. But its continued interest in bolstering its portfolio comes from both offensive and defensive impulses.
According to Venture Beat, the company's current research focus has shifted to the emerging frontier of big data analytics. Although its sheer size and technical prowess have placed the company in an enviable position, competitor breakthroughs in this young market could quickly level the playing field. So as the company proactively encourages patent exploration and filing among its researchers, executives have one eye on innovation and the other on lingering gaps that could be exploited by opportunistic rivals.