IBM loves patents. We’ve held the record for thirteen years for the most U.S. patents granted each year. IBM’s margin over the competition is also good (2941 in 2005, compared to 1828 for our nearest competitor, Canon). IBMers are actively encouraged to develop patents (which is probably why we do so well in the patent charts), and IBM is a large company with a lot of resources and a disproportionately large R&D; spend - perhaps no-one should be too surprised.
But in the chart position / size stakes, Nathan Mhyrvold’s company, Intellectual Ventures, is impressive. Their only products are patents - in much the same way, says Mhyrvold, as Coke’s product is a brand (trademark), and Microsoft’s is software (copyright). In other words, they are just focusing on another aspect of IP. A recent In Business episode looked at Intellectual Ventures, and they hold the record at 25th place for most U.S. patents granted in a year, despite being a minnow in a world of IBM and Canon. It’s an unfair comparision with IBM really, as IBM produces much more than just copyrighted product (a substantial portion of IBM’s business is services, not software), but IV has a fascinating business model, and one that’s still comparatively rare.
Update 2006-10-23: It’s unlikely to calm the debate I’ve been seeing on this topic any, but as Richard points out, IBM has just filed suit against Amazon for patent violation.
Update 2006-10-25: Greg at IBM Eye has more details on the suit.
Update 2006-10-30: For some comment in defence of Amazon, see this article from PC Magazine.