NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL) - Get Report founder Steve Jobs once said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." In the tech industry, innovation is a monetizable good that is protected by one thing -- a strong patent.

Tech companies file thousands of patent requests each year, hoping to protect the next great innovation. In 2014, 82,092 U.S. patents were given to just 50 companies, making up 27% of the 300,678 U.S. patents granted last year, according to data compiled by IFI Claims.

IBM (IBM) - Get Report topped the charts with 7,534 patents -- the most granted in 2014. This was its 22nd consecutive year on top of the patents list. Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report came in fifth with 2,829 patents, Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get Report came in seventh with 2,590 patents and Google (GOOG) - Get Report (GOOGL) - Get Report came in eighth with 2,566 patents. Apple trailed its competitors, coming in 11th with 2,003 patents granted, according to IFI Claims.

For a company like Apple, diversifying or modifying its portfolio of products is always welcome, especially since the Cupertino, Calif., company has become so reliant on its iPhone to generate sales. In each of its first two fiscal quarters this year, iPhones accounted for 69% of Apple's total net sales.

The reliance on iPhones continued for the third time in Apple's third-quarter earnings report, which was released last week. Apple reported $31.4 billion in iPhone sales on $49.6 billion in revenue, making iPhone sales almost two-thirds of total net sales. The rest came from iPads, Macs, other Apple products -- such as the Apple Watch and iPod -- and services, such as iTunes and Apple Care.

But patents are much more than a numbers game. They help indicate where a company is looking to go next and give consumers a chance to peek behind the doors of their favorite companies' innovation labs.

Here's a look at seven of Apple's coolest patents so far this year.

Image placeholder title

1. Apple TV Remote with Touch ID Controller

Apple supposedly dropped its plans make a complete Apple television, but it's looking to expand its existing Apple TV set-top box into more than just a way to watch movies and TV shows. In a recent patent application, Apple requested a patent for a TV remote with Touch ID capabilities.

As with most patent applications, this one hedged what the actual use of the device will be, saying only that it would have "at least one sensor configured to detect a biometric characteristic of a user," before going on to list fingerprint, iris, retina or voice sensors as potential options.

What could this mean?

The patent clearly states that the new remote will be for more than just Apple TVs, and can control things such as thermostats, air conditioners, heaters, fans, kitchen appliances, home automation controllers, security systems, vehicles and more. Apple has already launched its bid for the connected home with HomeKit, and this could be a step further in that direction.

Image placeholder title

2. Headset display

Apple has held a patent for a headset display since 2008, but it recently upped its patent with additional features. With the latest application, Apple added a touch sensor and speaker to the head-mounted carrier, a speaker to the "eyeglass temple," tools to detect a user's head movements, a camera on the head-mounted carrier and new configurations to integrate the headset with a cellular telephone. The headset is designed to give users the feeling of three-dimensional viewing.

What could this mean?

Even though Apple has held some of these patents for a while, it has yet to release anything on the market. But this virtual reality headset could help it compete against Facebook (FB) - Get Report-owned Oculus and Samsung's (SSNLF) Gear VR.

Image placeholder title

3. iPen

Apple already holds several iPen-related patents, and in July, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published yet another. But instead of showcasing a prototype of the pen, this one explained how its device would allow for continuous writing in the display area instead of making users erase characters as they mess up or move on.

What could this mean?

We already know the iOS 9 update for the iPad will allow users of the Notes app to sketch ideas directly into the app, so adding in writing capabilities wouldn't be that big of a stretch. Given Apple's many patents for an iPen-like product, it wouldn't be surprising to see one released.

Image placeholder title

4. Touch ID on Apple logo

In this July patent application, Apple showed how it could easily insert its Touch ID biometric circuitry in the Apple logo on the back side of its highly popular iPhone.

What could this mean?

Rumors have long been rampant that Apple is working on way to get rid of its home button. It could potentially implement a virtual one. But this patent indicates Apple might be getting rid of it in way no one really expected.

Image placeholder title

5. Motion tracking user interface

Apple was granted a patent in early June for an invention that would allow a video camera or similar device to track a user's motions, leaving his or her hands free while using the device. The way it works seems fairly simple. For example, if a user is looking through a document and needs to scroll down or flip to another page, he or she need simply move his or her head to do so.

What could this mean?

Besides being cool, this patent could mean a lot for Apple's user interface. It would implement motion -- an entirely new dimension -- into the experience. And it could mean a lot in terms of gaming on Apple products, especially since Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) - Get Report has integrated Leap Motion software into its computers.

Image placeholder title

6. Flexible phones

In April 2015, a U.S. patent for a flexible device surfaced. It expanded on a previous Apple patent from 2013. The new patent details how a particular device would have a flexible screen, battery and components. The device could even fold in half.

What could this mean?

It's long been speculated that flexible phones are the future of technology, and it is promising that Apple would revisit a patent from two years ago. The company hasn't given up on the project yet.

Image placeholder title

7. GoPro Challenger

In April, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published an application from Apple that modified a previous patent the company acquired from Kodak. The patent shows how small cameras can be added into a watch or small device.

In the updated patent, Apple primarily focused on the camera's ability to capture images through multiple systems, such as a wireless remote. The patent also discussed the different types of images the camera could collect, such as still images, video, slow-motion video and time-lapse images.

What could this mean?

The patent seems fairly basic. Where it gets a bit more interesting is in the "Background of the Invention" section, where Apple calls out the flaws in GoPro's (GPRO) - Get Report cameras, indicating that these cameras could compete directly against GoPro.

The patent says GoPro cameras only have a "single image capture system" that "can cause excessive wind resistance and presents a high profile that is more susceptible to damage and image artifacts from vibrations in some situations."