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China lags on new tech patents

Japan surges, but just two Chinese companies scored big numbers of US patents

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Japan’s technology giants may be struggling to cope commercially with cheaper rivals from China and beyond but they’re still among the most innovative companies in the world, according to the IEEE.

The institute’s sixth annual Patent Power scorecard ranks firms according to the size and quality of their US patent portfolios in categories such as semiconductor manufacturing, software, computer systems and electronics. Each category lists between 16 and 20 firms.

The scorecard ranks firms according to their “Pipeline Power” – a metric calculated by taking the number of annual patents and weighting it according to various other metrics designed to reflect growth, impact, originality and other factors.

As such, it’s by no means definitive and obviously limited to the US but still provides a neat snapshot into the relative patent activity in non-American tech-producing countries.

One of the most telling observations is that only two Chinese firms appear on any of the relevant tech categories – Huawei, which filed 411 US patents in 2011, and Lenovo, which filed 81.

Japanese firms, by contrast, dominate in terms of non-US companies in the “electronics” and “peripherals/storage” categories and also sneak into the top 20 in “software” (Sony), “communication/internet services” (NTT, DoCoMo), and “computer systems” (NEC, Fujitsu).

Canon tops the electronics category, above Hon Hai and Apple, and there are even top 10 places for ailing giants Sony, Sharp and Panasonic.

Ricoh is number one in peripherals and storage, meanwhile, pipping NetApp and EMC, while fellow Japanese firms Seiko Epson, Fuji Xerox, Brother, Konica Minolta and Viviti Technologies ensure there are more entrants here from the Land of the Rising Sun than any other non-US country.

Even in the semiconductor space, where the global economic slowdown and the emergence of cheaper, more advanced facilities in rival Asian countries has hit Japan hard, the country still manages to get a couple of entries – Semiconductor Energy Laboratory (3rd) and ailing Renesas (15th).

It must be noted that the scorecard only covers 2011 – the last full year of patent activity – and it’s likely that Japanese firms such as Sharp, Panasonic and Renesas have since all dropped down or off that list as resources are diverted from innovation to merely staying afloat.

Chinese firms, whilst sparsely represented on the current Patent Power list, will surely turn that around in the years to come with the full weight of the government behind them.

A relative newcomer on the international patent scene, as this WIPO filing (PDF) attests, China’s latest Five-Year Plan apparently demands an increase in filings from 1.75 per 10,000 people to 3.3 per 10,000 people – which works out at over 400,000 in total according to the current population.

Fort those who want more info, the Patent Power methodology can be found here. ®

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