Each year, the U.S. Patent Office and Trademark Office awards hundreds of thousands of patents to American and global companies. Last week, IFI Claims Patent Services, a producer of patent databases, released its top 50 ranking of the global companies awarded the most U.S. utility patents in 2011.
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24/7 Wall St.’s review of the IFI list finds that producing the most patents does not ensure a successful business — frequently, it can mean the exact opposite. These are the top 10 biggest patent producing companies for 2011.
Most of the corporations in the top 10 are among the most worst performers across all industries. Share prices of seven of them plunged more than 40% in 2011. Five of the companies also lost money last year. Hitachi and Panasonic, both in the top 10, each lost more than $1 billion.
Of the top 10 recipients, only three are particularly successful companies. For years, they have held the largest market share in highly profitable businesses. Korean giant Toshiba has been extremely successful in consumer electronics, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) dominates the operating system market and IBM (NYSE:IBM) is the market leader in enterprise computing. These companies have been able to rely on their constant revenue streams to support heavy investment in research and development.
Some incredibly successful tech companies are not even in the top 25. Companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which is only 39th on the list, have been extremely profitable as a result of a small number of highly successful products. Kodak (NYSE:EK) , meanwhile, is filing for bankruptcy, despite being one of the top patent recipients for years.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed top U.S. patent recipients for the past five years according to IFI’s annual reports. To illustrate how patent awards relate to company performance, we examined sales, profit and change in share price over the past five years for the top 10. We also examined how these companies compared within their industry and among the largest companies in the world based on the Forbes Global 2,000. Rankings for profit and sales are out of the largest 2,000 companies.
These are the 10 most innovative companies of the year.
10. Hitachi Ltd. JP > 2011 patent grants: 1,465 > Country: Japan > Profits: $-1.1 billion (25th biggest loss) > Sales: $96 billion (49th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -47.7% > Value: 473rd largest
Hitachi is the 38th-largest company in Japan. It is a massive and incredibly diversified corporation, with major stakes in 11 separate industries, including electronics, construction, automotive systems and telecommunications. With such an array of businesses, the company is involved in a great many research and patent applications. It was awarded 1,465 U.S. patents in 2011. But the company’s shares are down 47.7% in the past five years, an underperformance of roughly 40 percentage points compared to the S&P 500 over the same period.
9. Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. TW > 2011 patent grants: 1,514 > Country: Taiwan > Profits: $2.4 billion (233rd most) > Sales: $61.2 billion (106th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -63.69% > Value: 189th largest in world
Hon Hai Precision Industry is the largest company in Taiwan, with more than $60 billion in sales last year. While this company name may be unfamiliar to some, most will recognize Foxconn, the company it purchased in 2010. Foxconn is the largest contract electronic manufacturer in the world. Shares of Hon Hai are down 63% in the past five years. Since 2009, the company’s annual patent rate has doubled.
8. Seiko Epson Corp. JP > 2011 patent grants: 1,533 > Country: Japan > Profits: -$211.8 million (66th biggest loss) > Sales: $10.5 billion (740th most) >5-yr. stock price change: -68.25% > Value: 1,596th largest in world
Seiko Epson, known as just Epson by most Americans, is a manufacturer of printers and other consumer electronics devices, including LCD televisions and personal computers. Last year, the U.S. Patent Office granted the company more than 1,500 patents. One of Epson’s primary businesses was inkjet printers, which have been rendered nearly obsolete by laser printers and a lower demand for printing in general due to cloud computing. Over the past five years, the company has ramped up its R&D department, generating approximately 100 more patents each consecutive year than the previous one. At the same time, the company shares have plummeted nearly 70%. Last year, the company lost $211 million.
7. Sony Corp. JP > 2011 patent grants: 2,286 > Country: Japan > Profits: -$436.6 million (51st biggest loss) > Sales: $77.2 billion (75th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -76.28% > Value: 456th largest in the world
Sony is one of the largest and most recognizable consumer electronics companies in the world. It is also one of the most struggling major companies in the world. Sony has steadily increased its patent portfolio, producing 805 more patents in 2011 than in 2007. Last year, the company lost $436 million. Over the past five years, company shares have lost more than three-quarters of their value. The company continues to struggle in its competition with rivals Apple and Samsung, both of which turned major profits last year.
6. Microsoft Corp. > 2011 patent grants: 2,311 > Country: United States > Profits: $20.6 billion (6th most) > Sales: $66.7 billion (97th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -10.97% > Value: 50th largest in the world
Microsoft’s awarded patents dropped substantially in the past year. In 2010, the company was awarded 3,094 patents in the U.S. Last year, the number was just 2,311, resulting in the U.S. company being passed by Japanese companies Canon, Panasonic and Toshiba. The software and computer company’s stock has remained stable, with share prices down 11% in the past year. This is roughly in line with the rest of the market. The company’s consistent revenue stream from its Windows operating system, server products and Xbox game console, among others, allows it to invest heavily in research and development. Last year, the company earned $20.6 billion, the sixth-biggest profit of any company in the world.
5. Toshiba Corp. JP > 2011 patent grants: 2,483 > Country: Japan > Profits: -$211.2 million (69th biggest loss) > Sales: $68.3 billion (89th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -61.9% > Value: 509th largest company in world
Toshiba, another mature Japanese tech company, produces a wide variety of consumer electronics, communications and network systems, as well as systems related to transportation, water and sewer infrastructure. Due in part to the scope of the industries in which it is involved, the company had been among the top 10 of patent recipients for the past five years. Moreover, in the past couple of years, the company made a significant jump, awarded nearly 800 patents more in 2011 than in 2009. The company’s jump in technology development has not corresponded with financial success. Toshiba shares are down more than 60% in the past five years, and last year, the company lost $211 million.
4. Panasonic Corp. JP > 2011 patent grants: 2,559 > Country: Japan > Profits: -$1.1 billion (26th biggest loss) > Sales: $79.4 billion $79.4 (70th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -73.67% > Value: 482nd largest in world
The nearly century-old Japan-based Panasonic is a manufacturer of consumer electronics. It is most well-known for its televisions, video recording and viewing equipment, and batteries. In order to remain competitive in the ever-evolving world of technology, the company must stay innovative. Since 2006, Panasonic has averaged approximately 2,100 U.S. patents per year, including 2,559 last year. However, things have not been going well for the company. Shares are down nearly 75% over the past five years, and the company lost $1.1 billion last year. Among the 2,000 largest companies in the world, this loss was the 26th worst.
3. Canon K K JP > 2011 patent grants: 2,821 > Country: Japan > Profits: $3 billion (167th most) > Sales: $45.7 billion (163rd most) > 5-yr. stock price change: -50.23% > Value: 141st largest in world
Canon is the 141th most valuable company in the world, and the fifth most valuable in Japan, according to the Forbes 2000. The company manufactures a variety of consumer electronics and other products, but it is most well-known for its optical and imaging products, which include printers, cameras and video recording devices. Over the past five years, the company has been granted 2,300 patents on average per year. Canon’s shares are down more than 50% over a five-year period, but the company did make $3 billion last year.
2. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd KR > 2011 patent grants: 4,894 > Country: Korea > Profits: $13.7 billion (20th most) > Sales: $133.8 billion (20th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: +67% > Value: 33rd largest in world
While there are eight Asian companies among the top 10 patent recipients, the only one that is currently doing well is from South Korea — not Japan. Samsung Electronics is the largest company in Korea by a wide margin and is the 33rd largest in the world. The company has a stake in nearly every technology-based industry on earth, including construction, chemicals, finance, semiconductors and consumer electronics. The company has had a great deal of success in the smartphone market. In the past five years, the company’s awarded patents roughly doubled. At the same time, share price has jumped 67%. Last year, the company earned $13.7 billion. It recently said it would increase 2012 capital expenditure to $41 billion.
1. International Business Machines Corp. > 2011 patent grants: 6,180 > Country: United States > Profits: $14.8 billion (17th most) > Sales: $99.9 billion (41th most) > 5-yr. stock price change: +80.4% > Value: 31st largest in world
The perennial leader in patents has been, and remains, IBM. Last year, the company was awarded 6,180 separate patents, more than any other two companies combined — excluding Samsung. This is the 19th consecutive year in a row that the company has been the top patent producer in the world. The massive IT company has substantial market share in business technology consulting, as well as computer software and hardware development. The company made $14.8 billion in profits last year. Over the past five years, IBM shares are up more than 80%.