IBM received a record-breaking number of US patents in 2016, topping the list for the 24th consecutive year, showing the efforts the company is making to expand its business into products that process and analyse vast amounts of healthcare data.
International Business Machines Corp was awarded 8,088 patents in 2016, it said yesterday. The top five winners remained the same as the previous year, with Samsung Electronics Co, Canon, Qualcomm and Alphabet’s Google nabbing those spots, according to data compiled by IFI Claims Patent Services, a unit of Fairview Research.
IBM has been working to turn around its business by putting more resources into cognitive computing, which adds a layer of data analytics and machine learning to software and information in order to pull out computer-generated insights and automate processes. Chief executive officer Ginni Rometty has been targeting the healthcare industry specifically, which she often refers to as the company’s “moonshot.”
“What drives the company’s focus on it is the underlying fact that healthcare is an instance of people drowning in data,” chief innovation officer Bernie Meyerson said, adding that emerging technologies such as cheaper genomic sequencing are going to create even more healthcare-related information.
“If you don’t have a system that can deal with that data in volume, then the physician has no chance.”
Some of IBM’s patents last year involve using cardiac images to characterise the shape and motion of the heart and help detect cardiac disease, a drone that would be able to measure contamination in places like hospitals and on manufacturing floors and a method to plan routes based on a traveller’s mood.
More than 2,700 of the 2016 patents involved cognitive computing or cloud technology, the company said in a statement. While about 100 patents directly involved healthcare, many of the more cognitive computing ones could also be applied to the industry, Meyerson said. IBM consistently spends about 6% of its annual revenue on research and development.
Among the top 50 recipients of patents, US companies got 41% of the total, according to IFI., Apple Boeing and Cisco Systems were among the big gainers. In contrast, Japanese tech companies saw decreases in the patent awards from a year ago.
“The Japanese companies are always very strong,” said Larry Cady, a senior analyst with IFI. “They remain the No 2 country, but the total number of grants went down across the board.”
Korean, Taiwanese and Chinese companies getting an increasing number of patents, and may eventually reach the levels of Japanese companies, he said.
A record total 304,126 patents were issued in 2016, about 2% more than 2015. Computers, telecommunications and semiconductor patents dominated among the top recipients, Cady said.

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