In the century since IBM was founded as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co., it has racked up more than 50,000 patents, building a computerized world of floppy disks, electric typewriters, and laser eye surgery. Its knack for innovation — the topic of this Orlando, Florida, conference — has led to wonders as varied as artificial intelligence and selectively bred chickens. Here, six notable patents that spawned modern technologies.
IBM punched cards
Drawing from the pattern-instructing cards used in textile looms, IBM created cardboard punched cards in the early 1900s to store data. Though phased out by magnetic storage in the 1950s, the cards were used by IBM secretaries through the 1990s to track messages.
IBM 805 test-scoring machine
The first automatically scored tests of 1937 were printed on "mark sense" cards, which this machine read by sensing the electrical conductivity of pencil marks. IBM later replaced that method with optical-mark recognition, still used in test scoring today.
Allowing people to code in English and algebra rather than zeros and ones, Fortran opened up the world of computer programming in 1957. Today, it is used by scientists to selectively breed chickens.
The Semi-Automatic Business Research Environment was the first online airline-reservation system. Created in 1960, it could handle thousands — and today, millions — of transactions at once, laying the groundwork for ATMs and e-commerce.
A 1960s innovation and the first one-transistor memory, DRAM hit it big when it was used in the Apple II, one of the first commercially successful personal computers. DRAM has since led to smaller and faster memory chips, powering gadgets such as cell phones and MP3 players.
In 1962, a computer in IBM's 7000 series beat checkers master Robert Nealey — a move toward the artificial intelligence that recently powered Watson, this year's Jeopardy-winning robot.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.