Bank of America was ranked 124th for its number of U.S. patents granted in 2016, making it the highest-ranked financial services company on the 300-company list, ahead of technology companies such as Salesforce.com and Yahoo!, according to a report by the Intellectual Property Owners Association.
In 2016, the Charlotte-based bank received 279 patents, up 20.8 percent from 2015.
Other North Carolina-based companies on the top 300 organizations for U.S. patents granted in 2016 include Raleigh-based software company Red Hat and Durham-based lighting manufacturer Cree. Among other financial firms, Paypal Holdings, the online payment service, was ranked 233rd with 146 patents.
Patenting has become increasingly critical because technology plays an important role in digitalization of payments, online security and information exchange for financial institutions. It also helps them avoid legal hassles when competitors try to follow in their footsteps.
“The best way to get sued in this business is to not to give credit to other patents that your work relies on,” Cathy Bessant, the Charlotte-based chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America, said in an interview.
About one-third of the company’s innovations come from non-technology departments. Bessant said the company has a “distributed innovation theory” that encourages innovations stemming from customers’ real needs. As wearable devices become popular, one of the bank’s 2016 patents explores the possibility of using them as a payment method.
“We believe that innovations should happen closest to where our customers are,” Bessant said. “You don’t have to be a programmer to be inventive.”
Some of the bank’s patents have an internal focus that aims to facilitate the company’s operations.
In 2016, for example, the company filed a patent that enables generation of slide show presentations in which data presented is automatically retrieved from spreadsheet application files.
Every month, Bessant and her staff prepare a report that looks at patent activities by both other financial service companies and its non-traditional competitors like Amazon.com.
The report also lists the number of times the bank’ patent work is cited by other companies. For example, Bank of America’s text-to-speech technology used to conduct automated communications with customers has been utilized by companies in different applications.
“What we are seeing more and more is that the technologies we are patenting are being used by technology companies to help their work,” Bessant said. “They have to use our learning to expand theirs.”
In April 2017 alone, there were 128 newly published patents and applications that referenced Bank of America patents as a source of underlying technology by companies including traditional technology giants, such as Google parent Alphabet, computer maker Dell and software giant Microsoft, Bessant said.
In 2016, Bank of America was cited in more than 1,300 patents and applications by companies.
“Technology is increasingly the foundation of banking and how we connect with customers and clients. That competitive advantage is driven by innovations and creativity,” Bessant said. “We’ve got to protect that.”
Wei Zhou: 704-358-5240