Special Report

The World's Most Innovative Companies

4. Sony Corp (NYSE: SNE)
> 2014 patent grants: 3,224
> Country: Japan
> Sales: $66.6 billion

Japanese electronics giant Sony Corporation was awarded more than 3,200 patent grants in 2014, up nearly 50% from 2010. The company’s smartphone shipments have continued to decline, falling further behind its major competitors Apple and Samsung. As a result, Sony recently announced it would scale back handheld production to focus on components such as sensors, camera parts, and memory storage units. Sony was also among those hit by the recent onslaught of IT attacks from hackers. While these setbacks may slow the number of future patent filings, Sony is still among the world’s most innovative companies. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Sony unveiled a slew of new products, including most notably demos of its ultra high-definition technology and its SmartWear — the company’s version of wearable technology.

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3. Canon Inc
> 2014 patent grants: 4,055
> Country: Japan
> Sales: $30.9 billion

Known primarily for its cameras, Japan’s Canon makes a variety of other products, including photocopiers, printers, and medical imaging tools. On the company’s website, Canon characterizes its strategy as a “relentless pursuit of innovation.” The tactic is primarily one of diversification, both in terms of geographical presence, and technology. The company recently announced it would attempt to expand its presence in both the United States and Europe. In addition, the company’s patents include a diverse array of technology often unrelated to its focus on optical-based instruments. One patent, for example, described a two-way touchscreen device. Canon was issued more than 4,000 patent grants last year, a substantial growth from 2010, when the company reported 2,552 patent grants.

2. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd
> 2014 patent grants: 4,952
> Country: South Korea
> Sales: $195.7 billion

Mobile giant Samsung Electronics has been among the world’s most innovative companies since at least 2010, when it was awarded a total of more than 4,600 patents. Last year, the company trailed only IBM with nearly 5,000 patents issued. Like most of the world’s most innovative companies, Samsung is a major semiconductor producer, which helped the company dominate the smartphone market. According to Samsung CEO Boo-Keun Yoon, however, his company will soon move well beyond smartphones and onto the Internet of Things (IoT) — technology that seeks to connect the Internet to virtually all everyday objects, rather than just to a cell phone. Yoon asserted earlier this year that 90% of Samsung’s products will be IoT devices by 2017.

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1. International Business Machines Corp
> 2014 patent grants: 7,534
> Country: United States
> Sales: $99.75 billion

For the 22nd consecutive year, IBM was the global leader for innovation, with more than 7,500 patents awarded in 2014. According to the U.S. patent office, no company has ever surpassed 7,000 patents in a single year. The company’s revenue fell slightly in its most recent fiscal year, and its stock price dropped by more than 16% in 2014. Yet, IBM has routinely had among the largest R&D investments, spending well more than $6 billion each year since at least 2010. However, the company may need to change its strategy to maintain its position at the top, as its R&D investment was only 6% of sales, versus Google, which spent 16% of sales on R&D.

Correction: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect figure for IBM’s 2013 revenue.