Michael Karasick, a vice president and computer scientist at the I.B.M. Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., joined the company in 1988, just as the I.B.M. patent strategy was starting. One thing that has changed over the years, Dr. Karasick said, was the proliferation of “mixed-skill teams” of researchers in fields like medicine, public health, and oil and gas exploration.
Each such team, he said, will have computer scientists, mathematicians and statisticians. But in health care, the teams might also include biologists, geneticists and medical researchers, while the oil and gas teams would include geologists and geophysicists.
“You need the skills to engage with customers,” Dr. Karasick said. “We want to play in their sandbox not ours. You advance the science by applying technology to real-world problems.”
I.B.M. patents, Dr. Karasick said, typically cover “reusable technologies that can be applied to various disciplines.”
One invention — granted a patent last year — was for the question-answering technology used in the I.B.M. Watson computer that defeated human “Jeopardy!” champions in 2011. The same technology is being tested as an automated assistant to doctors as they diagnose diseases, for example.
In a study, published on Thursday, titled “The Most Innovative Companies in 2012,” the Boston Consulting Group pointed to four steps that spell success in innovation: “generate breakthrough ideas,” “involve customers throughout the innovation process,” “boost speed to market” and “proactively manage an intellectual property portfolio.”
“I.B.M.,” the report said, “excels at these practices, helping it earn the respect of executives at hundreds of other companies.”
But in the Boston Consulting ranking, based mainly on an opinion survey of 1,500 executives, I.B.M. placed sixth among the most innovative companies in 2012. Apple came in first, followed by Google, in this measure of perception rather than patent counts.