RIETI Report June 2017

Trends and priority shifts in artificial intelligence technology invention: A global patent analysis

Patent applications are a good indicator of the nature of technological progress. The number of artificial intelligence (AI) patents granted has increased rapidly around the world. In the June issue of the RIETI Report, we present the column "Trends and priority shifts in artificial intelligence technology invention: A global patent analysis" by Hidemichi Fuji, assistant professor at Nagasaki University, and Faculty Fellow Shunsuke Managi, which is based on a RIETI Discussion Paper.

Fuji et al. give an overview of the AI patent situation in the United States, China, Japan, Patent Cooperation Treaty, European Patent Office, and other countries. All of these countries published the highest number of patents from 2015-2016 except for Japan, which could be interpreted as the Japanese market being less attractive for AI technology application. Some other trends include a different focus on model types for AI patents granted to Chinese and Japanese universities compared to U.S. universities. Another finding was that Japanese companies have strong incentives to obtain AI patents from the USPTO, whereas there are less incentives for U.S. companies to obtain AI patents from the JPO, indicating that big data use creates an advantage for the U.S. market with respect to AI technology application. Finally, it was determined that in the 2000-2002 period, the priority of AI technology patent invention shifted from a specific model to another one, while in the 2012-2016 period, the number of patents granted substantially increased for all four AI technologies.

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Trends and priority shifts in artificial intelligence technology invention: A global patent analysis

FUJII HidemichiAssociate Professor, Graduate School of Fisheries and Environmental Sciences, Nagasaki University

MANAGI ShunsukeFaculty Fellow, RIETI

The number of patents granted has rapidly increased. Figure 1 shows the number of artificial intelligence (AI) patents granted by application country and technology type and reveals that it has increased more than threefold (from 708 items in 2012 to 2,888 items in 2016). In particular, AI patents granted in the US increased by 1,628 items during this period (Figure 1a), accounting for approximately 75% of the increase worldwide.

As shown in Figure 1b, the patent share of each AI technology type changed from 2012 to 2016. In 2012, biological and knowledge-based models were the leaders in patented AI technologies. However, from 2012 to 2016, the number of patents granted for specific mathematical models and other AI technologies rapidly increased, doubling from 2015 to 2016. These two figures show the short-term trend of AI patenting based on country and technology.

The time and geographical specifics of AI technology patents

Table 1 represents the change of AI patents granted by type of technology at each patent office. The table shows that the composition of patent-granted shares differs among countries. The knowledge-based model represents more than half of the total number of AI patents granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), whereas the biological model is the major technology type granted by the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) and the Japan Patent Office (JPO). Another finding is that the share of the specific mathematical model is only 1.7% in the JPO, which is extremely low compared with that of other patent offices. This outcome occurs because Japanese AI researchers primarily focus on android technology-based research and development (R&D)—and not mathematical elements—which represents the core AI technology (The Japan News, 2017). The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the European Patent Office (EPO), and the patent offices of other countries exhibit similar trends with respect to the technology share pattern of AI patent publications.

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