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February 27, 2019

ML Patent Apps Still Soaring

George Leopold

Intellectual property continues to be the coin of the realm for technology companies, and in few data-driven industries is this truer than the booming field of machine learning.

In its annual canvas of the fastest growing technologies, IFI Claims Patent Services reports that machine learning was again among the hottest commodities based on the number of patent applications. The patent tracker said ML applications jumped 116 percent in 2018 to 2,498.

(The rankings are based on the Cooperative Patent Classification system jointly managed by the European Patent Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Machine learning is defined as “computer systems based on biological models.”)

As it has for decades, IBM (NYSE: IBM) remained the leader in the number of patents granted last year with 9,100, a 1 percent annual increase, followed by Samsung Electronics (OTCMKTS: SSNLF), which remained flat at 5,850 patent awards. Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) remained No. 4 in the 2018 patent rankings despite a 10-percent decline in its patent portfolio. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) also dropped out of the Top 10, the result of a 16-percent year-on-year decline in patent applications.

Still, global technology giants dominated the top dozen patent assignees in 2018, with only Ford Motor Co.’s (NYSE: F) global technologies unit cracking the Top 10. (Toyota Motor Corp. ranked 13th, according to IFI.)

While IBM led the scramble for ML patent awards, the patent tracker said its top five was rounded out by Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Intel, Samsung Electronics and Google.

Source: IFI Claims Patent Services

Other researchers also have identified growing legal claims to protect machine learning technologies. For example, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that machine learning is working its way into patent filings related to software, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Along with machine learning, IFI Claims said IBM also led the fourth largest patent category, “healthcare informatics,” which rose 115 percent over the previous year. Indeed, medical technologies were the leading patent application categories in 2018, including genomics testing (up 249 percent) and medical imaging (plus 186 percent).

The general intellectual property category of “digital computing and data processing” that includes database frameworks and “information retrieval” generated 18,318 patent application in 2018, based on the joint U.S.-European patent groups. IFI Claims reported that “Computers” was the most popular technology group among patent petitioners.

Intel led in the data processing sub-category that includes data transfers and memory sharing for business applications with 48 published patent applications in 2018. IBM, Samsung Electronics, China’s Huawei Technologies (SHE: 002502) and Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) were also among the leaders in the digital processing category.

Interestingly, Intel also leads another emerging category: “storage devices for warehouses.”

See an interactive chart of patent classifications here.

In January, IFI Claims reported an overall decline in the number of U.S. utility patents awarded in 2018 while the number of patent applications increased.

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