No surprise: International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) received 6,478 patents in 2012, continuing its 20-year domination of the technology field. However, only two other U.S. companies appeared on the top 10 list dominated by foreign companies.

The other U.S. companies were Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), the world's biggest software company, in sixth place, with 2,613 awards, and General Electric Co. (NYSE:GE), the No. 1 conglomerate, with 1,652 patents granted, in ninth place.

In second place was Samsung Electronics (KRX:005930), the No. 2 global chipmaker and No. 1 smartphone maker, with 5,081 patents, followed by Japan’s Canon Corp. (NASDAQ:CANNY) with 3,174 grants and Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE), with 3,032 patents.

“We’re proud of this benchmark in technological and scientific creativity,” said Virginia Rometty, IBM CEO. The Armonk, N.Y., company said it has about 8,000 “inventors” in 46 states as well as 35 other countries. The non-residents accounted for 30 percent of all IBM patents.

So, if the non-U.S. IBM patent winners were removed, Samsung might technically be the global champion. The South Korean-based electronics giant also has thousands of U.S. employees, though.

Through September, IBM reported spending $4.7 billion on research and development in the first three quarters of 2012, slightly less than in 2011.

Samsung reported spending about 29.8 billion won (US $2.8 billion) in the third quarter alone, a 22 percent jump over 2011 figures. Samsung doesn't break out nine-month figures.

Among patents won by IBM was one for the Watson supercomputer that won a “Jeopardy” championship in 2011 against human contestants and is now in use at WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP) and Citicorp (NYSE:C). The patent is for using natural language to ask a question in detail and have it understood.

Other IBM patents were for lowering energy use in cloud computing, synthesizing medical procedures recorded in databases and providing mobile device users with network access codes for only a limited time frame.

Its U.S. rivals, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., and GE, of Fairfield, Conn., both have large research operations. Microsoft has built its own over time via acquisitions of other companies as well as setting up a dedicated research center.

GE’s corporate laboratory in Niskayuna, N.Y., with offshore centers in Brazil, China, Germany and Indiana, has been a center of technology research for more than a century. A new site in San Ramon, Calif., is dedicated to software.

Shares of IBM fell 18 cents to $192.14 in Thursday trading, while those of Microsoft rose a dime to $26.80 and GE rose 9 cents to $21.04.