Patent filings in AI reach record levels
Filings rebound after 2008 crisis
Post the 2008 capital crisis, patent filings dipped in most industries, except Cleantech. Since then, a seven-year growth period led to record numbers, with about 650,000 applications filed yearly at the USPTO. The data shows businesses still view patenting as a worthwhile investment, despite strengthened trade secret protections and narrowed patent eligibility for computer-implemented inventions.
Top patent holders dominate the landscape
Established technology leaders hold a considerable share of patents, creating barriers for new competitors. Companies once indifferent or opposed to patents now see the benefits of a strong patent portfolio. Even those committed to open-source efforts invest in patent protection for competitive technologies.
Software-related inventions face challenges
The 2014 Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank affected software-related invention patents. The two-part test led to high rejection rates for software-related patent applications. However, since 2016, there's been a significant increase in patents issued for bioinformatics and computational biology, with allowance rates exceeding pre-Alice levels. This trend is expected to continue and spread to other fields, like FinTech.
Growing foreign patent filings
Globalisation continues to impact patent applications, with the share of US entities decreasing as a percentage of total applications. The growth rate of foreign applicants is particularly high in AI, IoT, FinTech, Blockchain, and Automotive sectors. In Automotive, US-based applications made up less than 50% of applications since 2007. This shrinking share of US-originated applications could result in US-based innovators losing their home-field advantage over foreign competitors.
Foreign Applicants Increase Due to Offshore Outsourcing
US companies' offshore outsourcing of innovation activities might be causing the growing share of foreign applicants. MForesight's June 2018 report highlights the shift from "invent here, manufacture there" to "invent there, manufacture there." The report states that innovations often come from the factory floor, and moving manufacturing overseas fuels product and process innovations.
Innovation Hot Spots Across the US
California dominates patent applications, with 80,000 yearly since 2014. However, innovation hot spots are also found in states with smaller populations.
States with over 10,000 applications/year:
States with 5,000-10,000 applications/year:
By analysing patent applications per capita, some states are as innovative as California, or even more so, like Massachusetts. On the other hand, populous states like Texas and Florida file fewer patent applications than expected based on population size.
AI Trends: Global Competition
AI innovation competition is global, with many countries recognising its national importance. The growing global competition for AI dominance is seen in the rising percentage of USPTO patent applications filed by foreign entities. AI enables machines to learn from experience and perform human-like tasks. Governments, including the US, have set national agendas to win the AI race.
To better understand AI patenting trends, we defined the following technology clusters within the AI industry:
Artificial Intelligence Systems
Machine Learning Systems
Utilising Neural Networks
Utilising Pattern Recognition
Utilising Predictive Analysis
Utilising Support Vector Machines
Knowledge Based Systems
Natural Language Processing
Top AI innovations focus on Pattern Recognition, Predictive Analysis, and Neural Networks. IBM, Microsoft, and Google are the top filers of US patent applications in these areas.
AI Patent Landscape: IBM Dominates, Small Companies Show Strength
Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung
Application Area/Industry: Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung
Artificial Intelligence Systems: Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung
Augmented/Virtual Reality: Facebook, Google, Magic Leap, Microsoft, Sony Corp.
Automotive: Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, IBM, Toyota
Cognitive Security: Cisco, Cylance, Google, General Electric, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC Corporation, Qualcomm, Symantec Corporation
Computer Vision: Adobe Systems, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung, Siemens
Digital Marketing: Adobe Systems, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft
Education: Fanuc Corp., Ford, Fujitsu, IBM, Intuit, Microsoft, Oath, Tata Consultancy Services
Entertainment: Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Rom Guides
FinTech: Cognitive Scale, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft
Healthcare: General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung, Siemens
Natural Language Processing: Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung
Robotics: Fanuc, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung
Artificial Intelligence Systems
Knowledge Based Systems: Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung
Machine Learning Systems: Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung
IBM's dominance in AI patent applications is striking. This aligns with IBM's focus on using its AI platform, Watson, to offer AI-related solutions for various business problems and its embrace of the patent system.
Smaller Entities Shine, Global AI Competition Heats Up
Several smaller companies have captured top patent-filing spots in specific application clusters. For example, Magic Leap, a start-up developing a head-mounted virtual reality retinal display, files numerous patent applications in the Augmented/Virtual Reality cluster. Cognitive Scale builds industry-specific augmented intelligence solutions, focusing on the financial services industry. Its patent filings in the FinTech cluster reflect this focus.
AI innovation competition is global, and many countries recognise its national importance. Over 20 countries have released AI strategy documents, outlining policies to foster AI innovation and adoption for their economies and social welfare, addressing privacy, security, and ethics.
The rising percentage of patent applications filed in the USPTO by foreign entities shows increasing global competition for AI dominance. Although filings from China remain a small percentage, the rapid pace of application filing is notable. Patent applications filed by Chinese entities rose over sixfold between 2012 and 2018. This acceleration may continue as China heavily invests to become the world leader in AI by 2030.
Considering the emphasis other countries place on winning the AI innovation race, and the declining percentage of AI-related patent applications filed in the USPTO by American entities, American innovators may find themselves unable to compete in their own backyard.
AI Application Trends
Patent filings are increasing across all reviewed AI techniques. However, when data is tagged based on the AI application type, a different picture emerges. Filings have dropped over the last year for AI applications traditionally associated with business-method classifications at the patent office (e.g., FinTech, Education, and Entertainment), contrasting with the overall increase across other applications.
This trend resembles other software-related innovations, for which filings have significantly dropped since the Supreme Court's Alice decision, curtailing the scope of software-related patentable subject matter.
Although AI-related innovations often involve software, their allowance rate differs strikingly from similar innovations in FinTech. This divergence in allowance rates is tied to the Art Units examining these industries' respective patent applications. While FinTech applications are often examined in business method Art Units, AI patent applications are examined in Art Unit 2122 (AI & Simulation/Modelling), where the allowance rate is nearly double that of the business method Art Units.