Research In Motion Ltd. may have fallen badly behind in the smartphone race, but it remains a global innovation leader.
The BlackBerry maker is in elite company based on the quantity and quality of its patents, based on a new ranking by Intellectual Asset Management, a British trade publication.
RIM is one of just 14 organizations that hold at least 3,400 U.S. patents, makes new applications at a minimum 13-per-cent annual rate and owns the most coveted intellectual property.
RIM introduced its long-delayed BlackBerry 10 devices last week to generally positive reviews as it bids to regain some of its lost dominance in the smartphone market.
"BlackBerry's technical prowess is evident from the list," said Alan Fisch, an IP lawyer with Fisch Hoffman Sigler LLP in Washington. "Its patent portfolio represents a substantial commercial asset."
The magazine described these "select few" as the owners of the "largest, fastest-growing and industry-recognized patent portfolios in the U.S."
Also on the list are Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., AT&T Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Abbott Laboratories, Qualcomm Inc., Sony Corp., Covidien PLC, Ericsson Inc., Globalfoundries, Hon Hai, Freescale Semiconductor and Intellectual Ventures Management LLC.
The magazine pointed out that a growing number of the leading patent-holders are in the business of "monetizing" their intellectual property assets. Intellectual Ventures, for example, generates virtually all of its revenue by licensing its $5-billion (U.S.) patent portfolio and suing other companies it believes are using its IP.
"Entities on this list are patent sophisticates," Mr. Fisch said. "Their appreciation of the licensing and litigation value of patents should motivate them to obtain even more."
The report came on the same day that RIM's chief executive officer, Thorsten Heins, called publicly for a move against so-called "patent trolls."
"This past year our sector spent almost $30-billion in courtrooms – particularly U.S. courtrooms – defending cases against non-practising entities – or 'patent trolls' – who produce nothing," Mr. Heins said in the text of remarks to an Empire Club of Canada gathering in Toronto.
"Patent trolls hold genuine innovators hostage and patents have become weapons in an international technology arms race," he said.
"This is crazy. We have to shift our resources from litigation back to innovation, investment and job creation. That will require some practical but achievable reforms, particularly in the U.S. and Europe."
RIM has poured $1.5-billion to $2-billion a year into research and development, making it far and away Canada's top R&D spender. It's also been involved in numerous patent lawsuits, famously paying out $612.5-million in 2006 to settle a U.S. lawsuit.
Intellectual Asset Management also ranks the top 100 U.S. holders of "active" patents – a list headed by Samsung Electronics Ltd. with 45,012 patents. IBM (38,494), Canon (32,667), Panasonic (29,649) and Sony (25,741) round out the top five.
The magazine pointed out that the top 100 own one-third of all the roughly four million patents granted in the United States. Half of those patents are in the hands of just 311 organizations, reflecting the highly concentrated nature of IP ownership.
RIM is the only Canadian-based company in the top 100, placing 82nd, with 4,141 patents. The company also has one of the fastest-growing IP portfolios, with an average growth rate of 28 per cent over the past three years.