US-based companies obtained only 49% of US patents in 2008, according to IFI Patent Intelligence, which conducts an annual study of issued US patents.
The PTO issued 157,774 utility patents in 2008, up slightly from 157,284 in 2007. Given the poor economy, it might be expected that fewer patents would issue in 2008. Most of the patents issuing in 2008, however, were filed in 2005 or 2006 when times were better.
That being said, the PTO reported a 6% increase in patent application filings in fiscal year 2008 to 466,147. Taking the recent allowance rate of 44.2% into account, one would expect over 206,000 of these applications to eventually issue as patents. This increase in filings is one reason the PTO’s backlog is increasing to an estimated 1.2 million pending applications.
IFI’s study comes up with a list of the 35 companies receiving the most utility patents in 2008. American companies only occupy four of the top ten spots and 12 of the top 35. Japanese companies hold five of the top ten spots and 14 of the top 35. Overall, Japanese companies received 23% of the US utility patents. US company IBM led the way with 4,186 patents, followed by South Korean company Samsung with 3,515, and Japanese company Canon with 2,114.
The study also reviewed specific market sectors, finding that semiconductor manufacturing and multiplex communication were the subject of 4,430 patents. Both of these are hot electronics areas. Among the bio sector, drug compositions had 2,990 patents and biotechnology had 2,680 patents.
It will be interesting to see if these numbers go down over the next couple of years given the current economic situation. Because of the approximate three year lag between filing and issuance, companies that cut patent filings too far at this time may find themselves behind their competitors once the economy turns around.