In recent years, applications of artificial intelligence (AI) have appeared in almost every industry in the world. The term AI is broad in scope and refers to a number of different tools that utilize models of a mathematical nature to analyze data, usually large volumes of data, to predict or classify outcomes. The developing ability of organizations to collect and maintain large data sets on products, services, and operations, allows many different industries to leverage the power of AI-based tools. Although adoption varies across industry sectors, the use of AI applications to improve efficacy and adapt to systemic changes in real-time has been widespread. The growth of AI-application usage suggests a giant step in technical advancement that is poised to provide extensive productivity gains throughout global industries.

Patent filings on inventions related to AI models and AI applications are growing in number. Since 2013, patent filings on AI-related inventions have more than doubled, with a particularly large jump in the number of filings occurring between 2015 and 2019. During the time period between 2010 and 2019, the percentage of overall filings represented by the United States has dropped a few percentage points but remains around 70%. The biggest gains in the percentage of overall AI-related patent filings over the last decade are represented by China and South Korea. These gains are consistent with the continued expansion of China and South Korea into high-tech industries across the globe. To date, over 20 countries have filed patents on AI-related inventions indicating that the competition to develop AI applications and tools is heating up globally.

Since 2010, most American industries experienced explosive growth in the number of patent filings for AI-related inventions. Some industries, such as the entertainment, education, and digital marketing industries have experienced a decrease in AI-related patent flings since 2015. However, many industries such as the computer vision, robotics, natural language processing, healthcare, cognitive security, and automotive industries continue to experience skyrocketing AI-related patent filings since 2015. The high growth in filings in a number of industries is indicative of the widespread adoption of AI tools and applications in these industries. However, the types of AI applications and tools adopted across industries varies widely according to the product, service, and operational needs of each industry.

Accordingly, the increased growth in patent filings for AI-related inventions also varies across types of AI tools and application areas. Patent filings related to the use of neural networks, predictive analysis, and pattern recognition are artificial-intelligence techniques being more broadly adopted than others and thus have correspondingly high growth in related patent filings. This adoption trend may be attributable to characteristics of these techniques that tend to render them more lightweight and less demanding of computational resources than clustering or predicative analytics techniques; and more flexible than support vector machine (SVM) techniques. However, all types of AI applications and tools have experienced upward trends in the number of related patent filings per year since 2010. Across all industries generally, in the top three AI techniques, the top three patent filing organizations are IBM, Microsoft, and Google.

Despite the fact that most AI-related inventions are implemented in software, the allowance rate of patent applications related to AI is higher than in some other software-implemented technologies. The high allowance rate of AI-related patent filings is contrasted with the lower allowance rate of other software-related innovations such as FinTech. This divergence may be due to the difference in areas of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that examine these applications. For example, AI-related patent filings may be examined by personnel in Tech Center 2100 relating to computer architecture and software, while FinTech patent filings may be examined by personnel in Tech Center 3600 related to electronic- commerce, agriculture, licensing, and review. The higher allowance rates of AI-related patent filings is likely to further fuel the explosion of patent filings in a number of industries

What does this data teach in-house and firm practitioners?

  • Practitioners of all technical backgrounds can expect an increase in the influx of AI-related innovations for which patent protection is sought. The rapid adoption of AI-based tools and applications across most industries means that even practitioners outside of computer and electrical engineering fields may be presented with AI-related disclosures. Those supporting innovation in industries outside of traditional high-tech fields may wish to familiarize themselves with the nature of AI-tools and applications in order to better identify and capture innovations that promote their organization’s (or client’s) business strategy.
  • Practitioners representing clients in the computer vision, automotive, and cognitive security industries should be engaging clients about potential protection for AI- related innovations.
  • Filing strategies for AI-related innovations should take significant foreign filing opportunities into account. The expanding number of jurisdictions that are contributing to the growth in AI-related patent filings implies strong interest by organizations in a number of jurisdictions to carve out a piece of the AI-related innovations market.  Attention should be paid to maximizing the number of jurisdictions in which patent protection would be advantageous.. 
  • Expect an increase in AI-related invention disclosures from Chinese and South Korean clients. Practitioners supporting Chinese and South Korean clients may wish to consider probing for AI-related aspects of client inventions. 
  • Based on the upward trend in patent filings, the AI-applications area is a strong space for investment and development. The shift towards high tech creates both opportunities for broad patent protection, but increased risk. This increased risk will amplify the value of patents throughout many industries as these broader protection will be possible.

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