01 Feb 2019

Evidence of 'massive' rise in AI patents highlighted in WIPO survey

New WIPO's technology trend study probes artifical intelligence, finds IBM and Microsoft are leaders of a recent global upsurge in AI patents.


A new World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) study has documented 'a massive recent surge' in artificial intelligence-based inventions, with US-based companies IBM and Microsoft leading the pack as AI has moved from the theoretical realm toward the global marketplace in recent years.

Rapid pace

The inaugural publication in the ‘WIPO Technology Trends’ series defines and measures innovations in AI, uncovering more than 340,000 AI-related patent applications and 1.6 million scientific papers published since AI first emerged in the 1950s, with the majority of all AI-related patent filings published since 2013. WIPO director general Francis Gurry, said ‘patenting activity in the artificial intelligence realm is rising at a rapid pace, meaning 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 interaction with the machines we created.’ Mr Gurry explained, ‘AI’s ramifications for the future of human development are profound. The first step in maximizing the widespread benefit of AI, while addressing ethical, legal and regulatory challenges, is to create a common factual basis for understanding of artificial intelligence. In unveiling the first in our ‘WIPO Technology Trends’ series, WIPO is pleased to contribute evidence-based projections, thereby informing global policymaking on the future of AI, its governance and the IP framework that supports it.’

Key findings

Among the other findings, the study highlights AI-related patenting is growing rapidly, with more than half of the identified inventions published since 2013. Companies represent 26 out of the top 30 AI patent applicants, with universities or public research organizations accounting for the remaining four. IBM had the largest portfolio of AI patent applications, followed by Microsoft, Toshiba, Samsung, and NEC Group. Chinese organisations account for 3 of the 4 academic players featuring in the top 30 patent applicants. Machine learning, in particular the neural networks that have revolutionized machine translation, is the dominant AI technique disclosed in patents. Computer vision, which includes image recognition and is crucial for the implementation of self-driving cars, is the most popular AI application. The transportation sector, including autonomous vehicles, is among the fields with the fastest rate of AI-related growth.