The top 25 companies by US patent value was released by Business Week and it is worth a look. IBM generated the largest number of patents while Microsoft generated patents of the highest value (according to the BW study).
The number of patents involved at IBM is a simply mind-boggling 4,914. That’s over 13 patentable inventions a day. Not a bad brain trust.
But what caught my eye was a paragraph at the bottom of the story:
As a defensive measure, the company also published details on almost 4,000 inventions in a publicly available company journal last year.
By publishing I believe they ensure that no one can patent the ideas. Since many companies are racing towards the same goal the prospect of inventors stepping on each other’s toes is not far fetched. The value of publishing trade secrets outweighed the negative impact of letting folks in on what they were doing. I’m sure the published advances had less strategic or economic value than those that were patented, but it still does seem to go a bit against the grain of corporate secrecy one has come to expect.
The shelf life of a corporate secret has been greatly diminished over the past decade.
Patents have real economic value but bringing an element of open innovation to the table can also have its own significant value. In this case preventing the patent process from slowing down development of other initiatives by both IBM and their competitors.