IP management success stories can vary across industries and companies, and strategies should be tailored to the specific needs and goals of each organization. Additionally, the landscape of intellectual property law and technology is dynamic, so ongoing efforts are required to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

In one such example, IP strategies of three pioneer companies Apple, Qualcomm and IBM are discussed. While Apple, Qualcomm, and IBM are all major technology companies, they have different business models, focus areas, and strategies when it comes to managing intellectual property (IP). Here are some key distinctions in their approaches:

Business Models:

Apple primarily is a consumer electronics and software company whose emphasis is on product design and user experience. Apple generates revenue through the sale of hardware including iPhones, iPads, Macs, software, and services. Apple’s total revenue for fiscal year 2021 was approximately $365 billion.

Qualcomm is a semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company which specializes in developing and licensing wireless technologies and its significant revenue comes from licensing its patents to other companies.

IBM on the other hand is a diversified technology and consulting company which is engaged in various areas, including software, hardware, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. IBM generates its revenue through a combination of product sales, services, and licensing. IBM reported total revenue of around $70 billion for fiscal year 2021. In 2021, Global Technology Services and Global Business Services represented a significant portion of its revenue.

IP Portfolio and Focus Areas:

Apple utilizes IP as a tool to protect the unique design elements of its products and user interface innovations. Most of the patents cover a wide range of technologies related to consumer electronics, software, and user interfaces. Apple invests heavily in research and development (R&D) for new products and technologies. In 2021, its R&D expenditures were around $22.6 billion. Apple was granted over 2,600 patents in the same year, covering a wide range of technologies, including hardware, software, and design elements.

Qualcomm specializes in wireless communication technologies, including 3G, 4G, and 5G, targeting its extensive patent portfolio in mobile communication standards.

IBM on the other hand, have a diverse IP portfolio covering a broad range of technologies. Its strong focus is on research and development, with patents in areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and quantum computing. In 2021, IBM was granted over 9,100 patents, maintaining its position among the top patent holders globally.

Licensing Strategies:

Apple is less reliant on licensing as a revenue stream and has engaged in some licensing agreements, but it’s not a central part of the business model. Apple has been involved in high-profile litigation, particularly with Samsung and has actively defended its IP, especially in design patent cases.

Qualcomm generates a significant portion of revenue from licensing its wireless technologies to other companies and has been involved in licensing agreements and disputes related to standard-essential patents (SEPs). Their legal disputes are related to antitrust and licensing practices. Qualcomm engages in litigation to protect its patents and licensing revenue. Qualcomm reported total revenue of approximately $33 billion for fiscal year 2021, from which licensing revenue was approximately $8.2 billion.

IBM engages in licensing agreements and collaborations. Open-source initiatives and participation in collaborative projects are also part of their strategy. IBM has been involved in legal actions to protect its intellectual property and has a history of both defending its IP and participating in cross-licensing agreements.


In summary, while all three companies place a strong emphasis on protecting their intellectual property, their specific approaches vary based on their business models, industries, and the nature of their technologies. Apple focuses on design and user experience, Qualcomm on wireless communication technologies, and IBM on a broad range of technologies and services.

About the blogpost author:

Archana Pandit is presently working as a technical consultant in North India. As a patent specialist for more than 10 years, she has rendered opinions on patentability, infringement, invalidity, and Freedom to Operate, with an emphasis on semiconductors, database, electronics, robotics, automation and communications. Her specialties in Intellectual Property include conducting novelty searches / patentability searches, preparing accelerated examination search reports, conducting validity / invalidity searches, conducting Freedom to Operate searches, landscaping and state of the art analysis and licensing supports with EoU identifications and claim chart preparations.