Global trends in AI/healthcare activity
AI/healthcare activity in India
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to software-based systems that use data inputs to make their own decisions, thereby substantially reducing or even eliminating human intervention. Since the term was coined by the American cognitive scientist John McCarthy in the mid-1950s, this field has come a long way; it is now causing a paradigm shift in the healthcare industry.
AI is not only being used to enable virtual health assistants and chatbots, it is also enabling early disease detection and providing treatment suggestions to doctors. Figure 1 provides a snapshot of some of the most promising applications of AI in healthcare to date.(1)
Figure 1: advances of artificial intelligence in life and medical sciences
Given AI's immense potential to radically transform the healthcare industry, research is rapidly growing in this domain. This article provides an overview of the AI patent landscape, both globally and in India, and looks at AI trends in healthcare and medical applications. As patents are one of the key indicators of innovation, these trends may be good markers of how the field is progressing.(2)
Global trends in AI/healthcare activity
AI patenting in healthcare has grown quickly over the past decade, with a peak in 2021. Globally, there were approximately 25,000 AI/healthcare-related inventions published for the period from 2012 to 2021, with about 8,000 applications being published in 2021 alone (Figure 2). Since the publication of patents usually happens after 18 months from the earliest filing date, this indicates that there was a strong surge in filings in the year 2018-2019.
Figure 2: global publication trend in AI/healthcare technologies
Patent data can also be used to identify organisations with extensive AI research interests, particularly in the healthcare industry. It can provide a fair idea of the assignee's research and development (R&D) and commercialisation interests, and their market share. Figure 3, which illustrates the top patent-generating-organisations and their patent activity, shows large publications originating from tech giants such as Philips and Siemens.
Figure 3: top applicants by their patent families on AI/healthcare technologies
AI/healthcare activity in India
In the past decade, Indian publications accounted for approximately 2% of all global publications in AI/healthcare (Figure 5). Although lower than the other countries in the IP5 forum (which is made up of the countries with the five largest IP offices), there appears to have been a consistent increase in patenting activity in India. Since 2018, there has been an approximately 200% increase in patent publications in 2020, indicating a strong developing interest in India (Figure 4).
Figure 4: AI/healthcare patent publication trends in India over the past decade
Figure 5: patent publications in India (2%) compared with global publications over the past decade
Further, about 65% of patent results originated from India (ie, patents which list their priority country as India), indicating the contribution of domestic researchers to the AI/healthcare domain. Although giants such as Philips and Samsung were prominent in India too, domestic applicants investing in AI/healthcare include Tata consultancy services, Lovely Professional University and Niramai Health Analytix Private Limited (Figure 6).
Figure 6: top applicants by their patent families on AI healthcare technologies in India
The publishing trend in India shows that 575 families have been published in the past 10 years, of which 314 families have been published between 2019 and 2020. This signifies that most of the patent applications that have been filed in India are under the examination stage. While the Indian Patent Office is continuously working to simplify examination, AI applicants have to be mindful of some of the patenting exclusions (such as sections 3(f), 3(k) and 3(m) of the Patents Act) during prosecution, as these patents frequently involve innovations in areas such as software and mathematical rules.
This article has presented a patent study that methodically examines and investigates patent trends and identifies patenting activity across the world in the AI/healthcare domain. The global patent publication trends show that R&D and patenting activity in AI/healthcare is expanding quickly, gaining rapid traction from 2016-2017 in particular. Along with innovations in AI algorithms, a lot of this could also be attributable to better access to and handling of data, which primarily drives the success of AI.
India is also emerging in this field, with an exponential surge seen from 2019 onwards in particular. The government has established an AI task force to promote R&D and create policies and legal frameworks to expedite the deployment of AI technologies in India. With the increase in the speed of patent prosecution at the Indian Patent Office, coupled with strong enforcement measures, India will be a key innovation destination for global companies.
India has a high population, and the resulting huge and disparate patient dataset could further supplement the success of AI in healthcare. AI-driven tools could also provide an innovative solution to India's complex doctor-population ratio problem – this is currently 1:1800, while the World Health Organization's recommendation is 1:1000.(3) The effects of this problem were acutely visible during the covid-19 pandemic.
While the replacement of humans and doctors by machines is highly unlikely, these intelligent systems are likely to supplement professionals' tasks in many fields. The field is set for AI to make a significant social and economic impact on the healthcare sector in years to come.
For further information on this topic please contact Yoganjaneyulu Kasetti or Namrata Chadha at K&S Partners by telephone (+91 80 4042 7900) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The K&S Partners website can be accessed at www.knspartners.com.
(1) "Top 18 AI Applications / Use Cases / Examples in Healthcare", Atakan Kantarci, 2021.
(2) The approach used in the study on which this article is based was to perform a keyword and patent classification search, using both artificial intelligence and healthcare/medical related terms and classes, on the Derwent Innovations database, using data from the past 10 years (from 2012 to 2021). Multiple search strategies were used to optimise the data and arrive at the most relevant result subset. Further, the study considers only unique patent families to reflect the actual number of innovations. Recently filed patent applications experience a lag in publication of up to 18 months, so there could be variations in the patent data from 2019 onwards.
The keywords and patent classifications used to identify AI patents are adapted from an earlier study of AI patenting carried out by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and other sources. In the analysis used in this study, the AI results were limited with a further defined set of classifications and keywords in healthcare and medical technologies, resulting in a relevant and focused final patent set.
(3) Deo MG, "Doctor population ratio for India - the reality", Indian J Med Res, 2013;137(4):632-635.
An earlier version of this article was published in the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry's quarterly newsletter.