Some Facts of High-Tech Patenting

by Michael Webb, Nick Short, Nicholas Bloom, and Josh Lerner
 
 

Overview — This study details the growth of patenting in software, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and related technologies in the twenty-first century, and the continuing dominance of inventors in large US, Japanese, and Korean companies. Researchers still need to understand the impact of such trends on social welfare more generally.

Author Abstract

Patenting in software, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence has grown rapidly in recent years. Such patents are acquired primarily by large US technology firms such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, and HP, as well as by Japanese multinationals such as Sony, Canon, and Fujitsu. Chinese patenting in the US is small but growing rapidly and world-leading for drone technology. Patenting in machine learning has seen exponential growth since 2010, although patenting in neural networks saw a strong burst of activity in the 1990s that has only recently been surpassed. In all technological fields, the number of patents per inventor has declined near-monotonically, except for large increases in inventor productivity in software and semiconductors in the late 1990s. In most high-tech fields, Japan is the only country outside the U.S. with significant US patenting activity; however, whereas Japan played an important role in the burst of neural network patenting in the 1990s, it has not been involved in the current acceleration. Comparing the periods 1970–89 and 2000–15, patenting in the current period has been primarily by entrant assignees, with the exception of neural networks.

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