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UK IP Office publishes a report on AI patenting trends

China and US lead the way

18 June 2019

The UK IP Office published its report (18 June 2019) containing both a worldwide overview and specific insights into patenting by the UK AI sector.

The Report builds on the WIPO January 2019 report on AI patenting trends.

The UK IP Office report highlights rapid growth in the number of AI patents in recent years, charting this by jurisdiction, by subject matter and by country of origin of the applicants.

China and USA, unsurprisingly, continue to have the largest number of applications. However, consistently with the position generally on Chinese filing, only a small percentage (19%) of the AI-related applications first published in China have foreign equivalents.

The top 5 applicants are (in descending order) IBM, Microsoft, State Grid Corporation of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Xidian University (China). 9 of the top 20 filers are Chinese, 5 Japanese (Sony, Fujitsu, NEC, Toshiba and NTT), 4 from the USA (the above, plus Google and Microsoft Technology Licensing), 1 German (Siemens) and 1 Korean (Samsung).

The vast majority of AI applications relate to machine learning, with about half of these in recent years being related to neural networks.

Looking at the UK AI sector, BT Group continues to be the most prolific UK-based filer, followed by IBM UK, BAE Systems, Oxford University and ARM. UK applicants frequently file internationally – around 88% of AI-related patents first filed in the UK are also protected elsewhere.

Analysis of the main areas in which UK applicants file shows speech recognition and audio-visual technology have accounted for an increasing proportion of AI patenting activity by UK-based applicants and inventors, contrasting with a downward trend internationally. The report also notes a particularly sharp increase in telecommunications and image processing, and a probable uptick in activity in technologies applicable to autonomous vehicles.

The report notes that a number of applications from UK applicants are by joint applicants. This reflects both commercial collaborations and collaborations between commercial entities and academic or research organisations.

In line with the UK Government's Industrial Strategy, the report promotes AI as a growth area for the UK. It illustrates this by listing some high-profile acquisitions of UK start-ups and applications by large US companies, including Google's 2014 £400m acquisition of DeepMind Technologies, the creator of AlphaGo, Twitter's 2016 acquisition of Magic Pony Technology ($102m), and Microsoft's 2016 acquisition of the predictive smartphone app Swiftkey (£174m). It also highlights patent filings by Audio Analytics, a UK-based company working in sound recognition, with applications including driver assistance in vehicles, security and safety monitoring in the home, and in smart speakers.