While companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Samsung (SSNLF.PK) battle furiously over patents they claim the othrs have been infringing, IBM (NYSE:IBM) stands a distance away.

For the last twenty years, IBM has been the number one U.S. patent winner. For 2012, IBM set a personal record for its number of patents with 6,478. IBM’s investment in churning out so many patents helps it avoid the sort of patent cases that have busied other tech companies of late. For comparison, Google and Apple didn’t even win 3,000 patents combined.

Having so much technology can also help IBM set new trends and make some revenue.

Patent revenue

IBM invests about $6 billion in research and design annually, but receives only about $1 billion from licensing revenues. In contrast, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) won 1,292 patents — almost a fifth the number of patents IBM made last year — yet still earned almost $6.3 billion in revenue in 2011, likely due to the company’s nearly essential mobile-phone chips.

Study abroad

What may surprise some is that a significant percentage of the patents won in the U.S. came from abroad. Even though IBM is a domestic company, almost 30 percent of its patents were produced outside the U.S. in 2011, and 22 percent in 2010. Manny Schecter, IBM’s chief patent counsel, said the percentage of patents coming from abroad can only be expected to increase.

And IBM isn’t alone. Four of the top ten patent winners were Japanese companies, with Canon (NYSE:CAJ), Sony (NYSE:SNE), and Panasonic (NYSE:PC) sweeping third, fourth, and fifth, respectively. Samsung came in second place, making four of the top five patent winners Asian companies. Schecter also said that flourishing markets will produce more and more intellectual property, thus explaining why IBM patents came out of more than 30 different countries, and why so many other patents are coming out of Asia.

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