Charles Duhigg and Steve Lohr in their in-depth look at the tech patent fiasco for The New York Times:
The number of patent applications, computer-related and otherwise, filed each year at the United States patent office has increased by more than 50 percent over the last decade to more than 540,000 in 2011. Google has received 2,700 patents since 2000, according to the patent analysis firm M-CAM. Microsoft has received 21,000.
In the last decade, the number of patent applications submitted by Apple each year has risen almost tenfold. The company has won ownership of pinching a screen to zoom in, of using magnets to affix a cover to a tablet computer and of the glass staircases in Apple stores. It has received more than 4,100 patents since 2000, according to M-CAM.
So, Google has received 2,700 patents since 2000, Apple 4,100, and Microsoft 21,000. In other words, Microsoft has been granted three times the number of patents in the past 12 years as Google and Apple combined.
This is interesting because it’s pretty well known that Microsoft used to take a lackadaisical approach to patents — until they started getting burned. The same was apparently true of Apple (as you can tell from this story) until they started getting burned. This past year has been all about Google (directly or indirectly) getting burned. Now they’re stockpiling patents as a result too.
By the way, while it may seem like Microsoft has been granted an insane number of patents, they’re not even close to the top of the list. That would be IBM, which has been at the top for 19 straight years. In 2011, they actually set a new record with 6,180 patents awarded. In other words, the total number of patents that Google and Apple were awarded together over the past 12 years was almost matched by IBM last year alone.
It’s probably not a coincidence that IBM dominates here — it sure looks like a trend. Again, companies start out not worrying about patents, get burned, then go into patent beast mode. IBM has just been around longer than the others.