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Things just got a lot harder for the top holders of tech patents

By James Dennin for Kapitall.

Back when patents were invented, you didn't have to worry about pesky code. Inventors were usually patenting an object, something you could hold and see working.

A piece of code, while certainly still intellectual property, is a much more ethereal thing. For one, it doesn't mean very much except to the people who helped write it—and even developers can have trouble working it out as an outsider. 

There are also an infinite number of ways to write code that will solve a single problem. And that's where patent trolls come in (or patent assertion entity, if you want to be official about it).

Patent trolls are kind of like the landlords of intellectual property. They hold the rights to patents and then sue whenever they see an invention that looks similar. 

However a new ruling by the Supreme Court has just made that much harder. In a rare unanimous decision, the court held that "ideas" cannot be considered inventions qualified for a patent—even if they have a piece of code to go with it.

That will make it a lot harder for patent holders to generate revenue off of those patents. Will these top holders of patents in the US and Japan suffer from the new ruling? Use the list below to begin your analysis. 

Click on the interactive chart to view data over time. 

 

1. International Business Machines Corp. ( IBM, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Provides information technology (IT) products and services worldwide. Market cap at $185.05B, most recent closing price at $182.82.

6457 patents.
 

2. Canon Inc. ( CAJ, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Canon, Inc., through its subsidiaries, manufactures and sells network digital multifunction devices (MFDs), plain paper copying machines, laser printers, inkjet printers, cameras, and lithography equipments primarily under Canon brand in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Market cap at $44.87B, most recent closing price at $33.70.

3173 patents.
 

3. Sony Corporation ( SNE, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Designs, develops, manufactures, and sells electronic equipment, instruments, and devices for consumer, professional, and industrial markets worldwide. Market cap at $17.48B, most recent closing price at $16.84.

3017 patents.
 

4. Microsoft Corporation ( MSFT, Earnings, Analysts, Financials): Develops, licenses, and supports a range of software products and services for various computing devices worldwide. Market cap at $342.89B, most recent closing price at $41.51.

2610 patents.

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