In a competitive age where patent portfolios are more important than ever, IBM has retained its patent-approval crown. Big Blue racked up a record 6,478 patents in 2012 for inventions.

IBM's new patents could spark advances across technologies from analytics Relevant Products/Services and Big Data to cybercsecurity, cloud Relevant Products/Services and mobile Relevant Products/Services to social networking and software Relevant Products/Services-defined environments. IBM's 2012 patents also crossed industry solutions for retail, banking, healthcare, and transportation. Finally, IBM said its newly patented inventions will advance a major shift in computing known as the era of cognitive systems.

Ginni Rometty, chairman and CEO of IBM, said the company's "new benchmark in technological and scientific creativity" grows out of Big Blue's century-long commitment to research and development. She also gave kudos to "thousands of brilliant IBM inventors."

Top 10 Patent Winners

Indeed, more than 8,000 IBM inventors across 46 U.S. states and 35 countries participated in 2012's record-breaking patent approvals. IBM inventors residing outside the U.S. contributed to nearly 30 percent of the company's 2012 U.S. patent output.

From 1993-2012, IBM inventors received nearly 67,000 U.S. patents. The company's 2012 patent count exceeded the combined totals of Accenture, Amazon, Apple, EMC Relevant Products/Services, Hewlett-Packard, Intel Relevant Products/Services, Oracle/SUN and Symantec.

For the record in 2012, Samsung came in second at 5,081 patents. Canon ranked third; Sony fourth; and Panasonic fifth. Microsoft, Toshiba, Hon Hai, General Electric and LG Electronics rounded out the top 10, in that order, according to IFI Claims Patent Services.

Interesting Patents

Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, told us he was not surprised by IBM coming out on top.

"IBM has led in patents for years. The company has invested deeply and consistently in R&D over time and nurtures a culture of innovation," Kay said. "Patent leadership is the fruit of that type of commitment."

Some of the most interesting patents IBM filed this year include a system and method for providing answers to questions. This patented invention was implemented in the IBM Watson system. It describes a technique that makes it possible for computers to take a question expressed in natural language, understand it in detail, and deliver a precise answer to the question.

On the Big Data front, IBM also won a patent for a system and method for optimizing pattern recognition of non-Gaussian parameters. This patent describes a technique for dealing with and recognizing patterns in fast growing, large data Relevant Products/Services sets of complex information, such as understanding of spoken phrases or processing satellite data to predict locations of traffic jams.

IBM also patented a method for reducing energy consumption in a cloud computing environment. This patented invention describes a technique that enables more efficient and effective use of cloud computing resources, thereby reducing and minimizing energy consumption.