Which company is the most innovative one in America? That depends on your definition of innovative.

The Intellectual Property Owners Association, a Washington-based trade group, has a simple one: Which companies received the most patents in a calendar year? The group compiles an annual list of 300 organizations that hold the most patents using data taken from the Patent and Trademark Office.

The world’s best-known tech brands regularly make it to the list. But there’s also a smattering of financial institutions, government agencies and big federal contractors based in the Washington area. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s list:

Tech companies

IBM has long dominated the list of companies with the most patents. In fact, IBM has topped IPO’s list for 20 years in a row.

2013 was no different. IBM led the pack with 6,788 patents, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year. Samsung Electronics was a distant second with 4,652 patents, a decline of 7.8 percent from the previous year.

Here’s a list of the top ten:

(Intellectual Property Owners Association)

The other titans of the tech world had mixed showings. Microsoft and Google made the top 10, while Apple featured at No. 15. Intel, HP, Xerox, Oracle and Research in Motion (the maker of Blackberry) appeared in the top 50. Amazon was ranked No. 74 and Facebook No. 231.

While the top ten patent holders have stayed roughly the same over the years, there have been a few wild fluctuations. Take Google, for example.

Google’s patent volume jumped by a whopping 90 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year. The company received 1,151 patents in 2012 and came in at No. 23. A year before that, Google was way down at No. 74 with only 426 patents. Part of the increase has been due to Google’s newer products such as Google Glass, but it also speaks to a larger trend of companies filing for more patents than they did before. (For more context on Google, also see this piece on the company’s patents from MIT Technology Review).

Apple has also climbed the ranks over the last three years, while Microsoft has bounced around within the top ten.

Government agencies 
Sure, there are some U.S. government agencies known for their technical prowess, such as DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency a.k.a. the people who invented the Internet).

But DARPA didn’t make it to the list. Instead, the Navy was the government’s top patent holder in 2013, with 399 patents to its name.

The Navy moved up three slots from last year to No. 89 and recorded a 12.4 percent increase in patent volume from the previous year. In a statement about its ranking, the Navy pointed out that this put it ahead of the Army (155 patents, rank 190) and the Department of Health and Human Services (146 patents, rank 202) as well as innovation havens such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (281 patents, rank 121).

Here’s an example of a project the Navy is working on, unmanned helicopter flight controlled by tablets.

The Army’s patent volume declined by nearly 10 percent from the previous year. As the country scales back from the Afghanistan war, the Army’s budget has dropped in comparison to other military branches. HHS saw its patent volume increase by 11.5 percent compared with the previous year.


Big defense contractors such as Boeing and Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin also featured on the list.

In light of the Defense Department’s recent push to make contractors innovate more, the number of patents a company receives is a statistic that the Pentagon is likely to track more closely.

Boeing came in at No. 50, with 798 patents, an increase of 17.5 percent from 2012. United Technologies Corp., which makes aircraft engines, missile systems and other products, ranked No. 52 with 767 patents.

Weapons-systems maker Raytheon came in at No. 87, Lockheed Martin at No. 110 and Arlington-based BAE Systems tied with the HHS for the No. 202 spot.


Lastly, with all the focus by policymakers on promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, how did the nation’s top universities fare with patents?

The Regents of the University of California came in at the highest spot among educational institutions, tying with the Navy at No. 89 for 399 patents. Up next was Beijing’s Tsinghua University with 193 patents and a rank of 154.

Ivy league colleges such as MIT (281 patents, no. 121), Stanford (170 patents, no. 176) and Columbia (104 patents, no. 274) also featured on the list, along with the University of Texas (169 patents, no. 178). The University of Michigan (97 patents, no. 290) and University of South Florida  (95 patents, no. 295) rounded out the top 300.