At this point we have all heard how artificial intelligence (AI) will change the world, and many of us have already integrated AI-based products and services into our lives—from voice recognition devices in our homes to predictive and safety features in our cars.  In its latest report, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) used a machine learning AI algorithm to evaluate the volume, nature, and evolution of AI and its component technologies as contained in U.S. patents from 1976 through 2018.  The algorithm relied on a definition that broke AI into eight component technologies: knowledge processing, speech, AI hardware, evolutionary computation, natural language processing, machine learning, vision, and planning/control.

Below are some of the findings in the report:

  • In the 16 year period between 2002 and 2018, annual AI patent applications increased by more than 100%, rising from 30,000 to more than 60,000, and from a 9% to 16% share of all patent applications.
  • The planning/control and knowledge processing technology components make up the largest percentage of AI applications, with machine learning and computer vision applications showing a pronounced increase since 2012.
  • AI technologies are also diffusing across a larger percentage of the USPTO’s subclasses—or specific technology groupings—appearing in 10% of subclasses in 1976 to more than 42% in 2018.
  • By 2018, 25% of all unique inventor-patentees used AI technologies in their granted patents.
  • AI technologies are diffusing widely across the US.  For example, inventors in Maine and South Carolina are active in digital data processing and data processing adapted for business; inventors in Oregon are using AI in fitness training and equipment; inventors in Montana are using AI for analyzing the chemical and physical properties of materials; inventors in Wisconsin lead in medical instruments and processes for diagnosis, surgery and identification; and inventors in North Dakota  have applied AI technologies relevant to agriculture.

The increase in AI patent filings means that investors and innovators are increasingly looking to the patent system to protect and build upon new AI technologies.  As stated in the report, one “hallmark of valuable new technologies is an increase in patent applications,” which “reflect the expectations and decisions of investors and innovators who seek to use or build on the new technologies for innovation.”  Accordingly, we expect to see AI patent filings continue to grow, along with other forms of protection for AI innovation, such as protection of source code as trade secrets and licensing protections on proprietary datasets.