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Artificial Intelligence is the new Electricity

The World Intellectual Property Organization - WIPO, published a very interesting analysis (WIPO Technology Trends 2019) on the developments of Artificial Intelligence -AI, related to patents.

Beyond the news and what is known in mass media about the developments of the AI, an analysis of the patent applications allows us to really know how and in which sectors of the industry, which companies or institutions and in what regions of the world this revolution is taking place.

The first scientific publications on the subject come from the 1950s, but they really boomed in the first decade of this century. It is interesting that since the beginning of this decade (2010), a very interesting change has taken place: Academic publications on the subject decreased dramatically, while patent applications increased significantly. It is clear then that at that time the technology left the academic / theoretical field and reached a point that allowed industrial developments that could be exploitable commercially and protected via patents.

When reviewing the patent applications related to IA, the most important technique (in one third of the applications), is machine learning. In this subject, the techniques are "deep learning" and "neural networks", and of these, the most popular functional application is computer vision (image recognition). Robotics and control methods are also highlighted.

In regard to the industrial sectors in which inventions related to AI stand out, these are, in order of relevance, telecommunications, transportation, medical sciences, and methods of interaction between people and computer systems. Other sectors that are present to a lesser extent are financial services, entertainment, security, manufacturing, agriculture, networks, urban management and the Internet of things.

It is also very common to have patent applications that combine different fields of development, for example deep learning with image recognition; transport with image recognition; telecommunications with security; engineering with natural language processing; and machine learning for health sciences.

On the other hand, out of the 30 institutions that request more patents 26 are private companies and only 4 are universities or research centers. Out of the first 20 companies, 12 are from Japan, 3 are from the USA. and 2 from China. The two companies that have submitted the most applications are IBM with 8,290 and Microsoft with 5,930.

When reviewing the academic institutions that are submitting patent applications, the Chinese presence is massive. Of the list of the first 20 academic institutions, 17 come from this country. This is very interesting because it shows a tendency of change on the protection approach via intellectual property of this Asian giant.

On the other hand, it is worth remembering that patent protection is limited to countries where protection has been sought. The protection of this type of inventions is still very focused in certain countries. 78% of the inventions related to AI are protected in the US, China and Japan. Although there is a trend towards filing applications in a wider range of countries (via PCT, patent cooperation treaty). It is very striking that the vast majority of patent applications filed by Chinese companies or research institutions in China do not seek later protection in other jurisdictions.

As indicated in this interesting document, AI is the new electricity, that is, as electricity revolutionized all industrial and commercial sectors and the lives of people, artificial intelligence could constitute a similar sized revolution.


Karl Mutter
Karl Mutter, LL.M.