China and the US Have a Marked Lead in AI over the Rest of the World

According to a study by the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the US and China have a marked lead over the rest of the world when it comes to artificial intelligence.

WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry said that the countries had “stolen” the lead. “They’re out in front in this area, in terms of numbers of applications, and in scientific publications,” he said at a news conference.

The Winning Numbers

According to the study, US multinational information technology company IBM had the biggest AI patent portfolio, with 8,920 patents. IBM was followed by Microsoft with 5,930 and “a group of mainly Japanese tech conglomerates.”

China, on the other hand, accounted for 17 of the top 20 academic institutions involved in patenting AI technology. The study noted that China was “particularly strong in the fast-growing area of deep learning

Troublesome China

Gurry did acknowledge that China has been accused of breaking the rules of the global intellectual property system and of appropriating foreign technology. Such accusations were recently brought to the spotlight when US president Donald Trump imposed $234 billion worth of trade tariffs on Chinese goods to punish Beijing for economic espionage and stealing intellectual property and company secrets.

Gurry, however, said that China does respect the global system, emphasizing the fact that the country hosts the largest patent office in the world and generates the largest number of domestic patent applications.

Technology Follows Science

The WIPO study noted that there is an observable significant surge in patent applications related to AI that started in 2013. The number of filed patents in the 5 years that followed the year 2013 equal those that were filed in the half-century that preceded it.

Patent applications in machine learning grew 28% each year on average between 2013 and 2016, The study could not calculate the growth for 2017 and 2018 because patents remain confidential for an 18-month period before they can be publicly disclosed.

Gurry noted that the study proves that technology follows science, explaining that the 2013 boom in technological applications comes 10 years after a similar surge in scientific publications.

It is also interesting to note that deep learning overtook robotics in number of patents between 2013 and 2016 and that computer vision was the most popular AI application.