The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has awarded Microsoft its 10,000th U.S. patent for surface computing technology.
The invention, U.S. Patent No. 7,479,950, outlines how users can place real objects — anything from cell phones to their own fingers — on the computer's tablelike display and the computer will automatically identify the objects and track their position, orientation and motion. (This allows the objects to be associated with data or media, like a specific collection of music or photos.)
Ironically, two of the inventors from the 10,000th patent — Curtis Wong and Steven Drucker — were also co-inventors of Microsoft's 5,000th patent, issued in 2006.
Microsoft currently ranks fourth among companies receiving the most U.S. patents, with just over 2,000 patents in 2008. The company spends about $8 billion a year on R&D, more than any other company in the industry.
"Most technology companies, Microsoft included, have been increasing their emphasis on IP in recent years, trying to derive greater business value from their intellectual assets," said Bart Eppenauer, chief patent counsel, in a press release. "One way to value a patent portfolio is to look at the quantity of patents it contains. Another way is to look at the influence the portfolio has on others."
In December 2008, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) ranked Microsoft's patent portfolio first in terms of its power and influence for the second year in a row, not just among software companies, but across all industries. One of the main indicators the IEEE looks at to determine "Patent Power" is how often a company's patents are cited as prior art in other companies' patent applications.
Interestingly, Microsoft's most-cited patent is U.S. patent no. 5,774,668, titled succinctly "System for on-line service in which gateway computer uses service map which includes loading condition of servers broadcasted by application servers for load balancing." It was issued on June 30, 1998, and has been cited 302 times.