Which product or device was developed using the most patents?

I assume most advanced consumer devices such as the iPhone were developed by using patented technology, either in-house and/or purchased from others. Are we talking about hundreds of patents used or even thousands? Is there really any way for a consumer to know approximately how many were used? Is there a record for this sort of thing?

Oh, it’s a lot more than you would think, but anything having to do with electronics is probably a good guess. Here are, for instance, the 143 new patents granted to IBM yesterday. http://www.latestpatents.com/ibm-patents-granted-on-17-april-2012/
Frankly I think the companies themselves are starting to have trouble keeping track of which patents they hold the rights to, judging by the number of patent disputes these days.

In computer systems, and especially things like smart phones it is a huge and unwieldy mess. A company like Apple holds a huge portfolio of patents, the manufactures of essentailly every component will hold patents on those components, and almost any complex component will include licensed technology. One of the current patent spats involves the licensing of the core patents of the radio communication staandards and protocols, which exist as a bucket of patents to be licensed by any manufacturer that creates a device using the standard. That is just the trackable patentable technology. The number of patents that might possibly apply is even larger, and large companies retain a raft of patents as protective IP. Basically so that is say, Motorola sues Apple, Apple almost certainly can find a patent that they hold that Motorola are violating. The systems are just too complex that this won’t be the case. It is simply a counter threat. Big companies simply engage in a standoff over litigating over trivial patents. So you can argue that there are literally tens of thousands of patents that exist, not to directly contribute to the design of a product, but to protect the product from patent attack.

If you were to try to round up the number of patents for core technology I suspect that something like the iPhone would win. It covers the whole gamut of computer hardware, manufacturing techniques, software, radio communications, user interface design, design patents and probably some business patents. It is going to be many thousands of patents. The majority of patents won’t be owned by Apple, but by the component suppliers.

It’s probably something larger than an iPhone that has a lot more components in it. Find the device with the most components and you probably have the most patents that could apply.

Lots of components alone may not help. Very large systems are usually the result of duplication of lots of their components. Sticking with computer systems, we could take the current number one supercomputer in the world. With 700,000 Sparc64 processors it is a seriously big machine. But compared to a humble iPhone it contains no wireless technology, no GPS, no touch display, no camera, and runs a vanilla Unix, with none of Apple’s patented UI. The reason I focussed on the iPhone is that it contains such a diversity of technologies. It might be small, but apart from hard disk drive technology, it contains nearly one of everything you can think of. And contains so many software patents that it makes one head spin. Also making it that small takes lots of manufacturing technology not used in large computer systems. So more patents. The supercomputer world does have special patentable technlogies, mostly in the interconnect. Infiniband, IBM’s BlueGene, SGI’s NumaLink. Maybe GPU - but the iPhone has one of those, and supports OpenCL to program it. Plus all the DSP technology in the GSM/GPRS implementation for cellular phone. The wireless capabilities (GSM, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS) all require analog system design, and mixed mode chips. The range of technologies is just plain astounding.

Where we might get past something like an iPhone is probably a modern jet aircraft. Dreamliner would be a good start. Here you get for free all the technology in the engines, all the avionics, all the way down to the in-flight entertainment, simply because they are bought in from outside and bolted in. So on the basis that it may well include a large segment of computer technology, but also adds a number of new areas, it may well win.

It’s only a 3rd-hand anecdote, but my understanding is that many big companies cross-license patents en masse, e.g. “This stack has 6000 patents in it. If you guys can’t come up with more than 4000 you’re going to have to throw in some cash.”

Anyway, most patents don’t involve much Real Invention™. Heck, I’m shown as inventor on 30-odd patents myself (though sole inventor on only about 20) and many of you can vouch for how stupid I am. :smiley:

I thought I read somewhere that the space shuttle was the most complex machine even assembled and incorporating the most technological patents.

The shuttle has been called the most complex machine on a few occasions, although when I have suggested this, an aircraft carrier is often used as a probable counterexample. However clearly one might want to draw the line somewhere. A floating city is starting to become a system rather than an entity. The shuttle was built before the days of insane patent use. One would be reasonably certain that most patents used in the shuttle were probably legitimate serious improvements to the state of the art. Nowadays, especially in computer systems, you can have thousands of patents apply that are for the most part utter drivel. The shuttle might have a patent on a superalloy used in the main engines. Your iPhone patents the slide gesture used to unlock the screen. Guess which is going to have more patents.