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IFI Patent Intelligence, a patent assignee company that has been around since 1956, announced Jan. 11 its annual list of the top 25 U.S. patent winners.

IFI assembles its listing using information from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and from CLAIMS, a text-searchable database of U.S. patents in the world.

Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI Patent Intelligence, told eWEEK that patenting a product “encourages inventors to share the results of their research and technological advances with others, in exchange for this period of exclusivity.”

At the top of this year’s list with 3,651 patents is International Business Machine Corp. Joining IBM are companies such as Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Micron, Texas Instruments, Intel and Sun Microsystems.

For IBM, this is the 14th straight year in which it has held the top slot.

“We are very proud of our inventors and heritage of innovation,” Willow Buscemi, a spokesperson for IBM, told eWEEK. “We continue to submit quality patents for review that will help IBM clients innovate and deliver a return for shareholders.”

“When we created the industry’s first corporate patent policy last fall, we put 100 of our business method patents into the public domain as a way of encouraging innovation, and encouraging others to improve the quality of their business method patents,” Buscemi said.

What is also helping IBM to attract businesses is that some of its patented products are targeted for the business users who use desktops, laptops or handhelds to access important data.

“A patent is considered an asset of a business, and the value of a company’s patent portfolio is considered by banks and potential buyers of a business when valuing the business,” Slaughter said.

IBM created a list of 10 of its most interesting IBM patents issued in 2006, some of which were designed for consumers, while others were created for business users.

Read more here about IBM’s patents.

One patented IBM product that was designed for business users is its electronic password wallet, which is designed to remember multiple passwords and allows the user to use one single password for all applications that the password wallet will remember.

Another patented product from IBM is its invention that enables a portable phone to recognize where a user is located. For example, if a person called a user’s office phone, the user’s cell phone would ring and vice versa as if a user was home.

Chuck Mulloy, a spokesperson for Intel, ranked sixth on IFI’s list, said that Intel “(p)atents a wide variety of inventions that relate to the design of products, software and manufacturing technologies.”

Mulloy said he believes that the number of patents that Intel approves will continue to increase and bring in more business.

“Intel spends billions of dollars each year on R&D [research and development] to create intellectual property that underlies our products,” Mulloy said. “Our patent portfolio is a reflection of that investment. Patents are one of the ways that we protect our intellectual property.”

Joe Beyers, vice president of intellectual property licensing at HP, told eWEEK that the company “(g)enerates patents across its entire product portfolio, with particular emphasis areas that are of strategic importance to business users, such as digital imagine and printing, software, storage and PC-server technology.”

Like Slaughter, Beyers said that innovation is important when it comes to patenting.

“HP believes that the quality of its patents, rather than the size of its patent portfolio, is the best indicator of a healthy rate of innovation,” Beyers said.

For example, HP labs developed a technology called HP Virus Throttle, which is designed to target virus behavior and attack viruses from their origins. It also focuses on slowing down the spread of new, unknown worms across a user’s network

Like IBM and Intel, HP is invested heavily in R&D.

“In 2006, HP invested $3.6 billion in research and development and continued to push its innovation agenda with patented technologies that deliver value to HP’s products and, ultimately, its customers,” Beyers said.

When it comes to the future of patented inventions, Slaughter believes that the number of patented items will increase.

“The number of applications will continue to increase as new technology developments appear and awareness of patent value increases,” Slaughter said.

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