Seattle-area technology giants Microsoft and Amazon remained among the top recipients of U.S. patents in 2020, though Amazon narrowly lost its spot in the top 10.
Microsoft again ranked fourth, with 2,905 patents granted, while Amazon, which was granted 2,244 patents, was pushed down to No. 11, two slots below its 2019 ranking, according to data from IFI Claims Patent Services.
Last year saw a record number of patent applications published — 413,176, a 4.8% increase from 2019. But that’s not necessarily an indicator that high-tech workers, most of whom have been working remotely for the past 10 months, have been more innovative during the pandemic, said IFI Claims CEO Mike Baycroft.
There’s typically an 18-month lag between when patent applications are filed and when they’re published, meaning most of the patent applications published last year were actually filed in 2018, or even 2017, Baycroft said.
“We’ll have to wait at least another year before we can determine if the pandemic had any impact” on patent applications, Baycroft said.
What is clear is that COVID doesn’t seem to have affected productivity much at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which granted only 0.7% fewer patents in 2020 than in 2019.
“This is a minor downward tick in what’s been a largely upward trajectory we’ve seen over the past decade, and it’s still 13% higher than what we saw in 2018,” Baycroft said.
IBM, Samsung and Canon kept the top three spots on the U.S. patents list. Intel, Apple and LG also stayed in the top 10, but like Amazon, Ford Motors was pushed down the list last year by Chinese smartphone maker Huawei; Qualcomm, the California-based cellular technology manufacturer; and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.
Seattle-based Amazon is known for its off-the-wall patent grants, including, last year, a whip-like system for launching packages into space, drones designed to lift backcountry skiers out of danger, and robots to drop off deliveries at customers’ doorsteps, GeekWire has reported. In 2016, the company was granted a patent for a system that would put workers in cages atop robots to allow humans to safely enter robot-only zones; and in 2012, Amazon won a patent for an air bag system to protect dropped cellphones.
The vast majority of Amazon’s patent applications — and those of the Redmond software behemoth, Microsoft — likely have more high-level uses, though. Both companies published more than 1,500 patent applications last year for innovations in the fields of digital information transfer, machine learning, quantum computing and neural networks, according to IFI Claims. Amazon and Microsoft recently introduced competing cloud-based quantum computing services, Amazon Braket and Microsoft’s Azure Quantum.
Microsoft did not respond to questions about how it planned to deploy its newly patented technologies. An Amazon spokesperson cautioned that its patent grants and applications “do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services.”