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Google out patents Apple in 2012

(MoneyWatch) Which company racked up the most patents in the U.S. over the last 12 months? That has always carried bragging rights, along with offering a general sense of a company's innovative capacities.

And the winner is... not Google (GOOG), although it finally cracked the top 50, according to figures from IFI Claims Patent Services, which produces databases of patent information. The search giant ranked No. 21, with 1,151 patents. Still, that just edged out Apple (AAPL), which received 1,136 grants. 

IFI looked at utility patents, which cover the technology behind how things work, rather than physical designs. The latter is still important, and Apple has used them effectively to attack rivals in court. But it is easy enough to work around a design patent. Utility patents often provide protection that is harder to circumvent.

For Google to hit the top 50 patenting companies in 2012, it must have been making significant efforts in filing for a few years, given the long delays that often happen between filing a patent application and receiving a granted patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Also notable is the number of foreign companies that have been gaining patents in the U.S. The No. 2 through No. 5 slots are occupied by Samsung (5,081 patents), Canon (3,174 patents), Sony (3,032 patents) and Panasonic (2,769 patents). Microsoft (MSFT) is in sixth place, with 2613 new patents.

Samsung is a noted Apple rival, as is LG Electronics, which took 10th place (1,624 patents). In addition, another division of LG, LG Display Company, gained 626 patents. Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) earned 986 patents.

Barring a sudden detente on the mobile front, the industry can look forward to ever more patents to fuel infringement claims. Coming in at No. 1, as usual: IBM, which continues its long string of being the country's top patent getter, with 6,478 grants.

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