IBM Research

Why We Patent

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To some, today’s announcement that IBM once again led the U.S. in patents in 2016 might sound as predictable as snow in upstate New York in January. After all, this marks the 24th consecutive year IBM has received the most patents. It’s what we do, right?

But to gloss over this news would be to miss the deeper points about why we patent, and what it takes to maintain a remarkable record like this one.


IBM inventors received a record-breaking 8,088 U.S. patents during 2016, the company’s 24th consecutive year of patent leadership. IBM’s 2016 patent output features more than 2,700 patents for inventions related to AI, cognitive computing and cloud computing, as well as thousands of patent inventions in cybersecurity, analytics and other areas. Master Inventor Yu Deng (pictured) was a co-inventor on five of the patents granted to IBM in 2016, including the milestone 8,000th patent granted on December 27 (US Patent #9,529,893) for an invention designed to search and analyze pictures, videos and other content shared on social media. (Credit: Michael Pollio/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

As my nearly forty years as a researcher and scientist at IBM have taught me, innovation is how companies survive. One key way we sustain innovation is by patenting our most valuable intellectual property.

Of course, patents ensure income vital for a company’s very survival, but a small component of this income comes through simple licensing. In IBM’s case, this enables the necessary return on one of the largest annual investments in corporate research and development anywhere.

But licensing is not the only reason we pursue patents. At IBM, we patent above all to protect our ability to complete the innovation lifecycle. What begins as an “aha moment” is often the result of years of prior investment, perhaps in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Preserving IBM’s freedom of action to monetize that outcome is critical if we are to continue to produce breakthrough after breakthrough in technology and science.

The impact of innovation on society becomes clearer when you consider that more than a quarter of IBM’s patents granted last year – more than 2,700 of them – were for inventions related to the rapidly emerging technologies of artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and cloud computing.

These technologies hold the key to addressing some of greatest challenges facing society today — everything from developing more effective cancer treatments, to promoting greater financial inclusion, to dramatically reducing toxic levels of air pollution in places like China and India. Similarly, they represent the core assets required to create the future of information technology.

The examples just mentioned are but a small subset of the many ways in which IBM’s cognitive computing platform is currently being applied. By patenting the innovations foundational to this technology, we can continue to integrate it without interference into solutions that best serve the needs of our clients and society.

We can also, when necessary, leverage our extensive patent portfolio to shield open source and other developer communities in order to allow them to grow. A prime example of this was IBM’s decision in 1999 to support the open source Linux operating system on which programmers and developers share and evolve code. Then in 2005, we took the unprecedented step of making 500 of our software patents freely available to anyone working in this community.

Currently, IBM leads or participates in many open source projects in addition to Linux, where we provide liberal access to technology patents and code to hundreds of different partners. This stands in stark contrast to the narrow, self-interested strategy of purely defensive or blocking patenting. Those who adopt this strategy seek to acquire patents competitors require and then refuse to license it to them, or offer crippling financial terms, or simply choose to litigate the matter to the detriment of all.

IBM’s long and deeply held belief in ethical and responsible patenting has one overarching goal: to share the fruits of our unmatched culture of innovation as widely as possible. The innovations produced by generations of IBMers on behalf of our company and our clients are our single greatest asset as a company. We have a profound responsibility to protect this asset through patenting for the sake of scientific, technical, and societal advancement.


Also read, Exploring the Brain in Search of New Ways to Combat Disease.


Chief Innovation Officer, IBM

mihaela marinitu

I really like this article not only because it talks so highly about the essential role of IBM in the world but because behind the numbers of patents achieved in 2016 are these amazing people whose enthusiasm is simply overwhelming.

Todd Luedke

Thank you to everyone involved in the Patent process. A proud accomplishment!

Sravan PS

Proud to be a IBMer

Ranjeet Kumar

Wow!…simply awesome,superb…proud moment for us and proud to be a part of IBM..


Proud moment for an every IBMer……amazing journey and marking 24th consecutive year to hold maximum patents in different domain set out industry standards so high!!! Happy to be part of the team 🙂

Claudio Martinez de la Vega

Congratulations!!! #Respect #Proud #Joy


Very proud to be part of a company that not only stimulates creativity and new initiatives but also gives support to transform ideas on real solutions.

Dhaval Patel

Proud to be a IBMer.

Hearty Congratulations!!! to the patent team. Keep It Up.

Clea Zolotow

What a wonderful way to reward innovative thought – so proud to be an IBMer 🙂


Great to be proud of when I present IBM to Students, Clients, my netwprk and family as well.

David Zhou

Innovation is very critical for any company ,that why IBM is 100+ years old Tech company. Think different and Do different. I would like to say Innovation not just focus on Tech but also others ,such as Process,Talent etc.

Maria Weyrauch

Very impressive ! Being in Yorktown Research for the past year has brought me to the realization that I am working amongst the most brilliant minds in the industry. I am gratefull for the experience of seeing the future being created here and in Labs across the world.

Ashwinikumar Rao

Great! Hearty Congratulations!! to the patent team and all the patent achievers.

Kishor K Jha

This is simply great & proud moment for all IBMers.


Proud to be the part of IBM. Being Top for 24 years is just amazing….

Morris Dorfer


Shailesh Kumar Singh

Brilliant article – can not agree more that Innovation and therefore Patent is key to our own existence and success !! We have been leading Patent war for 24 consecutive year and we just need one more to reach Silver Jubilee celebrations and many more …

Proud to be an IBMer !!


Outstanding !

Rico Marquez

There is not a day goes by that I wish I was like any of these notable IBM Inventors. Really BIG Inspiration.

Brad Short

Fantastic! There’s no doubt that this collective work will make a significant difference to both IBM’s future and the world at large. Congratulations!

Gerry Abreu

The highest number of patents for twenty four consecutive years — huge congratulations!!!


Great to see IBM in first position consistently for the past 24 years in no of patents and Proud to be IBM er.


Thanks for sharing. 24 years consistency proves our IBM’s effort, direction & involvement . Proud to be IBMer


Excellent news!! Really proud moment for all IBMers :).

I would recommend to expedite the Disclosure Review Process. I hope this would add more numbers to already published Patent count. I myself submitted 4 of which 3 are still in Progress for past 3-6 months.

Julian Borys

Amazing part of IBM’s culture

Todd M. Scott

Proud to be a IBMer…..24 years and running as the leader in patents is amazing!!

Adolfo M

Great article, congratulations to IBM and IBM-inventors!… but one question, 2016 patents refer to all the patents registered during 2016 (get a patent number)? or, all the ideas submitted for a patent (patent pending)? I know sound logical but many ideas are submitted and accepted to be patent but the patent process takes several months so probably today’s patent is actually an idea from 2015.

Rajinikanth Madhavan

Proud to be an IBMer, 24 years on row IBM tops the chart while there is dramatic change in technology everyday, is no small feat. Demonstrates as to how leadership comes with great responsibility.

Susan Kincart

So proud of the innovation coming out of our company.

Comments are closed.

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