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My Dislike of Patent Grant Rankings Aside, How Accurate Are They?

IPO is an awesome organization. It does great things for the IP ecosystem. Putting out an annual list of how many patents IBM (and 299 others) got last year is not one of those things.

Obviously the reason they put out the patent grant rankings it is to get those companies to re-post the rankings to drive traffic and, ultimately, membership. I have no problem with that. It’s just good marketing.

But I do hate how it places an emphasis on quantity over quality. And even in the realm of quantity, why simply a raw number? Why not supplement it with some more informative metrics, such as adjusting for company size? At least then we might see some really innovative startup/growth stage company get the limelight instead giving free press to IBM every year. IBM has 350,000 employees! I am reminded of the infinite monkey theorem*. How long would it take 350,000 monkeys hitting their keyboards to invent something that could get through the patent office these days?

Okay, that’s my philosophical rant against the rankings. The real reason for this post was to investigate the reliability of the raw numbers. Specifically, the rankings are based on assignee information listed on the patents themselves, but listing the assignee on the patent is optional. The table below shows how many patents granted in 2010 had an assignee listed on its face. I broke it down by entity size (note: this is the current entity size in PAIR, which theoretically could have changed since the patent granted).

Entity SizeNo Assignee on PatentAssignee on Patent% With Assignee on Patent
Micro5,6592,00126%
Small10,20250,61283%
Undiscounted1,220239,15399%

In a future post I will compare these numbers with data from the assignments database. For my purposes here, the 99% coverage for patents to undiscounted entities satisfies me that rankings are mostly accurate (since most ranked companies are undiscounted entities). In fact, perhaps this is a reason IPO chose raw number of grants as the metric — by limiting the results to mostly undiscounted entities, the 15,000+ small and micro entity patents with no assignee fall out.

Now, if we assume most patents to small entities are assigned (or there is an obligation to assign), why is the percentage without a listed assignee so much higher? Lack of formalized patent procedures? Uncertainty as to actual assignee? Desire to not call attention to themselves/their technology?

*I guess Wikipedia couldn’t get a monkey to post in front of a typewriter so they went with a chimpanzee for the image