The European Patent Office Annual Report Shows Massive Increase in Self-Driving Vehicles, AI, and Blockchain

Recently, the European patent office released its annual report for the year 2018. As usual, the United States stood out as the top applicant of patents in the EU, at 25 percent of overall applications. The sectors that saw the majority of patent applications, 53 percent, were the top ten technology fields, as shown below:

 

Photo credit: European Patent Office

The top five applicants were Siemens from Europe, Huawei from China, Samsung from South Korea, LG from South Korea, and United Technologies from the United States.

The self-driving vehicles (SDVs), AI, and blockchain sectors stood out with increasing rates of patents. According to the report:

The SDVs study showed that both the automotive and ICT sectors are undergoing significant transformations. Investment in R&D for SDVs has been substantial and resulted in a steep growth in patent applications. Between 2011 and 2018, patent applications related to SDV technologies outstripped the baseline rate of growth across all technologies twenty-fold: Compared to 16% for all technologies, the EPO noted a 334% increase for SDVs for the same period.

The EPO's conference on AI revealed the unparalleled growth in the number of AI inventions: Nearly 6 000 patent applications were filed at the EPO between 2011 and 2016. A similar trend was reported for inventions on blockchain. There are now some 4 000 patent families related to this field, with the majority of them having been filed since 2015.

If you take a look at the top five applicant countries: the United States with 25 percent, Denmark with 15 percent, Japan with 13 percent, China with 5 percent, and South Korea with 4 percent, it is closely in line with the International Property Rights Index (IPRI), the only outliers being China and South Korea. The top three applicant countries are also the top 15 in the IPRI.

Even though patent rates have increased for these sectors, the changing regulatory environment in regards to digital taxes, the European Union copyright directive, and SPC waivers may discourage further innovation in the European Union. Even the European Union Patent Office understands the importance of patent protection: “The role of patents in the promotion of these technologies is evident as they secure the investment needed for advances in this field.”

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