Who's the world's most inventive tech company? Based on patent quality, it's Microsoft.

Microsoft isn't the name that comes to mind when you think of the world's most inventive tech company. But if you measure inventiveness by the quality and usefulness of patents, Microsoft tops the tech world, according to three different reports in the last few months.

The IEEE Spectrum Patent Scorecard rates Microsoft as having the top patent portfolio for software companies for the third year in a row, on the strength of the number of its patents, their impact, originality, and several other measures. Its rating is 7422, far ahead of its nearest competitor, Oracle, with a rating of 994.

Even more impressive is Microsoft's top spot among all information technology companies in the Patent Board Scorecard. The score card uses more than 50 different factors, including number of patents, innovative cycle time, industry impact, and others. Microsoft rates number one, with IBM coming in second. Apple comes in far behind at number 12, with Google just behind Apple, at number 13.

In addition, a study by Bloomberg BusinessWeek back in January came to the same conclusion, and found that Microsoft's patents are the most valuable in the world, with a value of 3.3 times that of IBM's.

Microsoft, as you might imagine, is quite pleased. Bart Eppanauer, the company's chief patent counsel, claims in a blog:

Microsoft invests more than $9 billion annually in research and development, and the innovations that result from that R&D commitment are directly related to the quality of our patents.

There's quite a disconnect, though, between the Microsoft R&D effort, and its image and products. I'm not sure how direct a pipeline there is between R&D at the company and the actual products and services it sells. Google is seen as more innovative, even though Microsoft is well ahead of Google based on the quality of patents. In the end, it comes down to products, not research, and Microsoft could do a better job there.

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