For 28 consecutive years, IBM has received more US patents than any other company in the world, and the areas those patents are issued in are a talisman for where the industry believes the biggest technological impacts are likely to be delivered in the companies decades.
Over the last 12 months, amongst its 9,130 U.S. patents artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, quantum computing and security-related patents feature very strongly.
According to Darío Gil, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, “The world needs scientific thinking and action more than ever. IBM’s sustained commitment to investing in research and development, both in good and in challenging times, has paved the way for new products and new frontiers of information technology that have greatly benefited our clients and society.”
IBM says it led the industry in the number of U.S. patents across key technology fields:
Making AI More Intuitive
IBM received more than 2,300 AI patents as inventors developed new AI technologies to help businesses scale their use of AI. Patents in this area ranged from technology to make virtual agents more responsive to emotions when speaking to customers, to AI that can help people make difficult decisions — summarising key decision points from a variety of information sources, both written and verbal, and presenting them in easy-to-understand visualisations. The company says it is focused on delivering innovations in natural language processing, automation and building trust in AI, and continually infusing new capabilities from IBM Research into its IBM Watson products. In 2020, this included the IBM Watson team announcing the first commercialisation of capabilities from Project Debater – a technology that digests massive amounts of text and constructs a well-structured speech on a given topic and delivers it with clarity and purpose.
Hybrid Cloud at the Edge
There were more than 3,000 patents related to cloud and hybrid cloud technologies including a technology to intelligently distribute the data processing components between the cloud, the edge and computing devices in-between. IBM says this offers the potential to greatly optimize the hybrid cloud for IoT workloads – such as GPS-generated driving instructions – that are sensitive to latency. Edge and hybrid cloud offerings are crucial parts of IBM’s product roadmap. In 2020, they included the launch in May 2020 of the IBM Edge Application Manager, an autonomous management solution to enable AI, analytics and IoT enterprise workloads to be deployed and remotely managed, delivering real-time analysis and insight at scale. In addition, in November 2020, IBM announced the IBM Cloud for Telecommunications to help companies unlock the power of edge and 5G in November 2020.
Quantum computing is a major focus says IBM. It led quantum computing patents obtained. One patent, for example, simplifies the mapping of quantum molecular simulation on a quantum computer. As a result, researchers will be able to explore simulating chemical reactions on quantum computers to understand how and when the discovery process around new materials and new pharmaceuticals will be revolutionised. IBM was also granted a patent that sets the foundation for investigating more accurate and efficient risk analysis calculations on a quantum computer. These ideas are already being extended by research done in collaboration with leading financial institutions.
As enterprises work to protect their data, particularly in highly-regulated industries, IBM inventors received more than 1,400 security-related patents. One of the patents is used for fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), an IBM-pioneered method of performing computation on data that remains encrypted while being processed in order to maximise security for data in use. Previously, processing encrypted data required decryption before processing and re-encrypting the results, thus making data more vulnerable while unencrypted. IBM inventors patented a technique that allows encrypted data to be organized so that FHE vector comparison operations can be performed efficiently and maximises the security of the data.
Across the board IBM received patents for more than 9,000 inventors located in 46 U.S. states and 54 countries. Since 1920, IBM has received more than 150,000 U.S. patents and played a crucial role in innovations ranging from magnetic storage to laser eye surgery.