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LONDON – IBM Corp. was awarded a record number of U.S. patents in 2006, a year that saw the most patents awarded ever, according to a study.

IBM received 3,651 patents, securing the No. 1 spot the company has held for 14 years, said the study by IFI Patent Intelligence, which releases an annual list of top patent awardees. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. came in second with 2,453 and Canon Inc. in third with 2,378.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co., which came in fourth and fifth respectively, both received more than 2,000 patents. No other business besides IBM had exceeded 2,000 patents in previous years, IFI said.

All told, 173,772 patents were issued in 2006. Although that figure set a record, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) said last month the approval rate for new patents was also the lowest on record, at 54 percent.

The USPTO announced last year a plan to speed up the patent approval process and improve the quality of patents following calls for reforms.

The agency plans to hire 1,000 examiners each year over the next five years, but warned that the number of patent applications will still outpace its ability to examine them.

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