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Tech stocks may still be dropping in markets around the world, but that isn’t because companies are running out of new ideas, to judge from the compilation IEEE Spectrum is publishing here for the third year in a row. Last year inventors and their employers continued to file patent applications at an ever-increasing rate: there were 456 154 applications for U.S. ”utility” patents—those for inventions as opposed to design ideas, new organisms, and so on—an increase of 7 percent over 2006. That was more than twice the number filed a decade ago, according to the data compiled by 1790 Analytics, which specializes in evaluating intellectual property.
Over the years, the companies appearing in the top ranks of the major patent categories tend to be the same, which is not a surprise considering the importance that the biggest multinational technology companies attach to intellectual property. But here and there striking changes occur, and sometimes they signal new technology trends. Last year, for example, E Ink, a pioneer in electronic ink technology, suddenly showed up in the top ranks of Computer Peripherals and Storage, trailing only Seiko Epson and Ricoh in overall Pipeline Power, despite having a much smaller patent portfolio.
Our Pipeline Power metric is derived by adjusting the number of patents owned by organizations to reflect various measures of patent quality. It is designed to show the overall strength of each organization’s patent portfolio.
If you happen to know that it’s E Ink technology that’s used in Amazon’s very hot electronic book, the Kindle, perhaps you won’t be surprised to see it throwing so much weight. In fact, it’s not the only company of its ilk to find itself surrounded in Computer Peripherals by very large companies with broad technology interests. SiPix Imaging, a direct competitor to E Ink, appears for the first time in the scorecard in 2007 and is ranked 10th.
The presence of two electronic ink companies, both relatively small, in the top 10 of such an important category shows just how much interest there is in this emerging technology area. And that’s not all it shows.
Looking in more detail at the patent metrics of E Ink and SiPix reveals that both companies have very high Pipeline Impact values (5.00 for E Ink; 3.42 for SiPix). This means that their patents have been cited much more frequently than expected, given their age and technology. E Ink and SiPix also have high Pipeline Generality values (5.00 for E Ink; 3.45 for SiPix), suggesting that their patents are attracting citations from patents describing a variety of technologies.
Many of the citations to the patents of E Ink and SiPix come from subsequent patents granted to the companies themselves. As an example, SiPix has highly cited patents describing microcup arrays that can be used in electrophoretic displays. These patents are referenced in large numbers of subsequent patents assigned to both E Ink and SiPix. They have also been cited by patents assigned to large technology companies such as Fuji Xerox, HP, SAIC (Science Applications International Corp.), and 3M.