announced Tuesday that it is the first company ever to earn more than 4,000 U.S. patents in a single year.

In fact, IBM (NYSE: IBM) secured 4,186 – up from 3,125 a year earlier.

IBM has dominated patents won for 16 consecutive years.

VentureBeat writer Dean Takahashi has already written about some of the cool technology being developed at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, including and , but IBM’s announcement puts a number on all of that innovation: 4,186, the amount of patents IBM earned in 2008. That’s more than Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Apple, EMC, Accenture, and Google combined.

It’s pretty mind-boggling, especially since we’re talking about patents earned, not just applied for. (Virtually every startup I interview has some kind of “patent pending.”) Of course, just because an idea was patented doesn’t mean it will pay off — quality trumps quantity. Apparently, this is the 16th consecutive record IBM has made for most patents earned, but it doesn’t generate the excitement in the tech world that you see around Google and Apple.

Here’s a sampling of patents that IBM included in its announcement:

1. Wireless system to detect presence of child in a baby seat.

2. Ultralow dialetric constant layer with controlled biaxial stress.

3. Method of using RFID systems to help blind and visually impaired individuals.

4. Methods and structures for promoting stable synthesis of carbon nanotubes.

5. CMOS imager with copper wiring and method of eliminating high reflectivity interfaces.