Source: JLGutierrez | Getty Images

Published: January 27th, 2021

Intellectual property is the lifeblood of almost every industry, and one way to tell how busy the R&D folks have been at a company is by counting patents. They’re one measure of the innovation output that in turn may eventually translate into market share and revenue.

In 2020, for the 28th consecutive year, IBM was granted the most U.S. patents: 9,130, to be exact, light years ahead of number two Samsung Electronics’ 6,415 (though Samsung Display, ranked number sixteen, scored an additional 1,902). Yet despite these numbers, each company received one per cent fewer patents compared to 2019.

Canon (3,225), Microsoft Technology Licensing (2,905), and Intel (2,867) rounded out the top five companies granted patents, in the same order as they were in 2019. But after that, things changed, sometimes radically.

One of the biggest leaps was the number six entry: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC). The chip builder leaped six steps up the list, increasing its patent count by 22 per cent over 2019 to 2,833. It nudged LG Electronics down one spot, and LG in turn bumped Apple down one to number eight, even with Apple’s 14 per cent increase in its patent count.

Despite its U.S. government challenges, Huawei Technologies came in at number nine, moving up one spot with a 14 per cent increase in patents. Qualcomm rounded out the top ten, moving up from number 11 in 2019.

The first non-IT entry on the U.S. list was number 14, Toyota Motor Corp.

What about in Canada?

In Canada, the patent mix was completely different. According to the federal government’s website, the first company we think of as an IT firm making the list is Huawei Technologies at number six. Qualcomm Incorporated, Samsung Electronics, and BlackBerry Limited were the only other IT firms in the top ten, at numbers eight, nine, and ten respectively.

So who got the most Canadian patents? Halliburton Energy Services, a multinational provider of products and services to the energy industry, was issued 448 Canadian patents to achieve the number one spot. In the U.S., Halliburton was number 49 (plummeting 15 spots from its 2019 position), with 771 patents granted, 24 per cent fewer than in 2019. The Canadian top five was rounded out by General Electric company, The Boeing Company, SNECMA (a French aerospace engine manufacturer), and Nissan Motor Co.; the only one of that group also in the U.S. top 50 was General Electric at number 18. Proctor & Gamble Company was the only consumer goods company in the Canadian top 10, in the number seven spot; it did not even appear in the U.S. top 50.

These numbers, of course, don’t reflect the R&D conducted in 2020 – those patents have a long road to trudge before being granted. The Canadian patent office said it took about 30 months for the 2020 crop of patents to be processed (reduced from 42 months in 2014), and the U.S. patent office estimates 22 months (prioritized U.S. patents in Track One may be granted in a year or less), suggesting that we won’t know how researchers fared during the pandemic for a couple of years.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada