IBM Wields Cloud Patents For Defense, Profit

IBM Wields Cloud Patents For Defense, Profit

IBM is moving into cloud patents, but that’s not necessarily going to upset established providers. In a pinch, they could end up as partners.

IBM acquires patents at a prodigious rate and uses them to ward off challenges by rivals and patent trolls. It has been the single largest patent recipient for several of the past 20 years.

However, there’s another aspect to its methodical pursuit. It also cross-licenses them to technology allies who may be under threat from a common adversary.

As reported this week, IBM is one of the largest holders of patents on cloud technologies and processes, having been granted 1,200 in the last 18 months. For the last 20 years, IBM has been at the forefront of landing patents in emerging technology areas. The company appears to have every intent of continuing the practice deep into the cloud era, even though many cloud operations are based on Web standards, open source software, and open APIs.

Nevertheless, IBM tends to be a more of a defensive player with patents than an aggressive seeker of royalties from other companies.

It’s also frequently willing to cross-license patents to other companies, particularly technology partners and allies, to ward off the claims of its rivals. Among the big league cross-licensers and patent buyers: Google, Twitter, and Facebook.

That was one of the surprising conclusions of a study of the ways IBM has used its patents versus other companies since 1991. The study was conducted earlier this year by Maulin Shah, managing attorney of the patent law firm, Envision IP, in Raleigh, N.C., and New York.

Twitter, for example, acquired 934 patents from IBM in 2014 for $36 million. Facebook in 2012 acquired 696 patents from IBM for $83 million. Alibaba, the Web-based Chinese search and shopping company, acquired 22 patents from IBM in 2013 for an undisclosed amount, before it launched its IPO.

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