I understand that drug patents are worth a lot of money. However, I wonder what the most valuable computer patents in history have been, both hardware and software.

It's almost surely not PageRank. Beside the fact that it is just the first principal component and may or may not hold up, iterating a few times over the matrix will give a result that is almost as good. Bing is not hampered by lack of access to PageRank.

The blue LED was ultimately worth only $9 million to its inventor.

Maybe the transistor? Or IC's? Or ... ?

I know patents can be difficult to value, but many were directly licensed. Others were the foundations of companies.

What is the top-10 list here?

  • Unless a company divulges the revenue from an individual patent it's impossible to say, but IBM, Microsoft, Nokia.... all declare billions in license revenue.
    – arober11
    Apr 1, 2015 at 11:29

2 Answers 2


Ironically, the EFF's "patent busting project" (https://www.eff.org/patent-busting) can probably be used as a list of high value computer patents. These are patents that the EFF believes threaten the viability of the internet. I would just caution that their summary "busted" or "invalidated" notations aren't always accurate. I know at least one patent that has had claims emerge from re-exam but is still listed as invalidated.


I once heard informally that Jay Forrester made a lot of money on his patent for coincident core memory. The story went that it was licensed on a per bit basis to IBM who grossly underestimated the future need for random access memory in its computers. That may not be true, but this link states that IBM paid $13 million in 1964 for Forrester's patent which works out to about $100 million in today's dollars. Invested in the S&P500, I'd expect it would work out to be about $1.2 billion over the 53 years since 1964.

Jay Forrester was a pretty amazing guy. After fundamental contributions to the development of modern computers he switched focus and founded the field of System Dynamics.

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