'Quantum leap' in AI-related patent filings: UN (Update)

January 31, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain
The UN noted Thursday that patent filings for artificial intelligence-based inventions have exploded in recent years, with more than half of all such patents filed since 2013.

New data from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) documented a massive recent surge in AI-based innovations, indicating that such technologies have taken a giant step out of the theoretical realm.

"There has been a quantum leap since about 2013," WIPO chief Francis Gurry told reporters in Geneva.

"We can expect a very significant number of new AI-based products, applications and techniques that will alter our daily lives, and also shape future human interactions with machines we created," he added in a statement.

Artificial intelligence is a key element of many computer products made by tech firms and institutions in the United States, Japan and China especially, including smartphones, connected speakers and self-driving cars. AI can also have applications for military purposes and in healthcare, among other areas.

In its first-ever "Technology Trends" report, WIPO found that some 340,000 AI-related patent applications have been filed worldwide since the term was first coined in 1956, with more than half of them filed since 2013.

The study is based on data from 2016, but Gurry said there was no reason to believe that astronomical surge in such filings had not continued since then.

"I very much doubt it is dying down," he said.

He stressed that it was not up to WIPO to make a judgement call on whether the new technologies were good or bad, but that the UN agency aimed to provide a wealth of empirical data to inform important and much needed societal discussions around AI and its implications.

'Infiltrating most things'

According to Thursday's study, AI-linked patent filings make up just 0.6 percent of the global patent pool, but that number is expected to swell, with widespread implications.

The WIPO study found that companies were far more active than universities and other public research institutions in filing AI-related patents, accounting for 26 out of the 30 top applicants in the field.

IBM, home of the question-answering computer system Watson, was by far the company with the largest portfolio of AI patent applications, with a total of 8,290 inventions, followed by Microsoft with 5,930, the report showed.

They were followed by Toshiba at 5,223, Samsung at 5,102 and NEC at 4,406, it said.

Chinese organisations make up 17 of the top 20 academic players in AI, it added.

Machine learning, and in particular the neural networks that have revolutionised machine translation, is meanwhile the dominant AI technique disclosed in the patents, and is present in more than one third of all such filings.

And deep learning, which is a machine-learning technique that includes speech recognition systems, is the fastest growing AI technology, with a nearly 20-fold increase in patent applications between 2013 and 2016, the report found.

The data also showed that computer vision, which includes image recognition used for things like self-driving cars, was the most popular application of AI technology, as it was mentioned in a full 49 percent of all AI-related patents.

"The general direction that we see ... is that this is infiltrating most things," Gurry said.

Explore further: China dominates top Western economies in patent applications

Related Stories

US still world leader in patent filings

March 16, 2016

The United States remained world leader in international patent filings in 2015, followed by Japan and China, the World Intellectual Property Organization said on Wednesday.

China drives global patent applications to new high

December 14, 2015

China accounted for nearly a third of the world's patent applications last year, once again driving strong global growth, despite a sharp decrease in industrial design filings, the UN said Monday.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.