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Carolyn Hax

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Posted at 06:45 AM ET, 12/04/2012

Google, AT&T and Lockheed make Thomson Reuters patent-based top innovators list for the first time

Thomson Reuters’ intellectual property consulting arm released its second annual “top 100” list of global innovators Tuesday. The list relies heavily on patent data to determine who’s in and who’s out and uses four criteria: patent volume, the success rate in being granted a patent, the global reach of the patent portfolio, and the influence of patents based on citations. In order to qualify, an organization had to have 100 inventions between 2009 and 2011.

The AT&T Inc. logo is displayed at a retail store in Washington, D.C. on March 21, 2011. AT&T was among the companies that made Thomson Reuters top 100 list of innovative companies in 2012 but not 2011. (Andrew Harrer - BLOOMBERG)
This year’s list, and the associated report, includes the oft-mentioned names in innovation, such as Samsung, Apple and Microsoft. Google, AT&T, Lockheed Martin and John Deere were listed this year, after not making last year’s list. Bayer, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Philips, Unilever, Yamaha and Airbus fell off the list.

Notable on the list were tech companies Apple and Samsung, which have made headlines for their intellectual property disputes.

“Patents are finally being recognized as a viable asset class with revenue-generating potential far exceeding other sources,” read the report, referring to the Apple-Samsung disputes as well as other large patent acquisition deals.

Asked whether the patent-related courtroom battles played a role in determining which companies made the list, David Brown, president of Thomson Reuters IP Solutions said they didn’t, “at least not directly.”

The semi-conductor industry was the most prominently featured sector, with 18 companies listed, followed by computer hardware, with 13 companies in that sector listed. Government agencies and academic institutions also made the list, with the two university recipients coming from South Korea: Pohang University of Science and Technology and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. The United States is home to the two government agenices listed: the Departments of the Army and Navy.

The United States and Asia came in first and second for the number of organizations that were based in their respective regions, while Europe came in third. Forty-seven of the organizations were U.S.-based, with 32 from Asia and 21 from Europe. No Chinese organizations made the list — the second time in as many years.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is seen in Alexandria, Va., Friday, Feb. 25, 2011. (Alex Brandon - ASSOCIATED PRESS)
“The intensity of innovation is actually rising,” said Brown when asked what finding from the list most stood out to him. Companies that made the list last year and were not featured this year were not excluded because they were less innovative than they were in 2011, said Brown. Instead, they were merely surpassed by others.

Thomson Reuters does not have a monopoly when it comes to asssesing companies’ ability to innovate, and there is still disagreement as to how much weight patents should be given when judging innovation. The U.S. patent system, in particular, has been lambasted as a barrier to innovation and job creation.

Thompson Reuters’ methodology, which is in and of itself proprietary, also means that start-ups, often mentioned in the same breath as innovation, have an almost impossibly high barrier to entry under the list’s criteria. That’s not to say the companies that made it, failed to do well in other ways. According to the report’s findings, the companies listed created 124,214 new jobs and collectively outperformed the S&P 500 in both market capitalized weighted revenue and R&D spending.

What do you think of Thomson Reuters’ s methodology? Are there companies that should have made the list but didn’t?

The author’s sibling is an employee at Google.

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