A corporation's patent portfolio evaluates its role as a leader in their industry. Patents are granted by the Department of Commerce's US Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of an invention. A patent legally stops other companies from making or offering an invention for sale. Companies pour billions each year into the research and development needed to stay ahead of the competition. In many cases, they have to continue to spend money for litigation to protect their exclusive rights to a product in cases of patent infringement. Tech companies fill up the top 10 due to the fast nature of the industry, while energy and drug companies take a slower approach to patent procurement. For the most innovative companies, it is all about staying on top by laying claim to the most advanced technologies before anyone else. (To read more on innovation, check out Which Is Better: Dominance Or Innovation?)
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For the past 18 years, IBM has consistently come in first place for the number of patents the company acquires each year. The firm's team of inventors, which consists of 7,000 people in the U.S. and abroad, received 5,896 U.S. patents in 2010. That surpassed their 4,914 U.S. patents from 2009. Kevin Reardon, general manager of intellectual property and vice president of research business development for IBM, calls patent leadership an important element of IBM's high-value business strategy. Being at the top of the patent game costs IBM $6 billion in research and development annually. IBM has been criticized in the past for extreme patents that cover things like patent trolling, a system and method for extracting value from a portfolio of assets, and offshoring of U.S. jobs.

Coming in at second place in the patent race is Samsung, which logged 4,551 patents in 2010. While that should be cause for celebration the company has to focus on the lawsuit waged against it by Apple which claims that Samsung infringed on 12 of its patents. Samsung responded to the charges by countersuing Apple.

The corporation got its 5,000th patent in 2006. They received more than 3,000 in 2010 alone. Despite having fewer patents than IBM and Samsung, the company's patent portfolio, which is heavy with video games and software, ranks number one for value. Most recently, the company sued Motorola, Barnes and Nobles and a number of other companies for patent infringement stemming from Google's Android operating system. (To discover the link between success and innovation within a company, check out R&D Spending And Profitability: What's The Link?)

Canon Inc.
Well known for their cameras and office equipment, Canon was the top patent receiver for Japan-based companies in June of 2010. It came in fourth in the U.S. with 2,543 patents, which broke the company record for patents received in a single year. In June 2010, Canon filed a patent infringement lawsuit against 20 companies. The suit was settled in July of 2011 in favor of Canon. Seymour Liebman, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and general counsel, for Canon U.S.A., says the company devotes about 10% of its global revenue to research and development.

Some of this company's key projects focus on digital TV, remote control and interface of everyday technology and appliances and text to speech recognition. Panasonic has made public its goal to be the "No. 1 Green Innovation Company in the electronics industry" by its 100th anniversary in 2018. The company's green plan includes products, services and business models. It had 2482 patents in 2010. In 2011, Panasonic announced the opening of its first research and development center in India.

Hewlett-Packard rounded out the top 10 patent recipients in 2010 with 1,480. The company recently won a settlement in a patent infringement lawsuit they filed against two Taiwan-based companies. In 2009, the firm said it would start focusing on the quality of its patents instead of the quantity. (For more on patents, check out Patents Are Assets, So Learn How To Value Them.)

The above companies are the most innovative in the world, in terms of how many patents they have. However, it remains to be seen as to whether this increased innovation always leads to increased profits.