A European Patent Office (EPO) study, Patents and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), has shown that patent applications related to ‘smart connected objects’ are increasing rapidly, achieving a growth rate of 54% in the last three years. The study, in co-operation with Handelsblatt Research Institute, examines what is becoming a widespread technology trend.

The EPO said it had identified over 48 000 patent applications filed up to year-end 2016 relating to three technology sectors of 4IR: core technologies in ICT (information and communication technology) that make it possible to create connected objects; enabling technologies that complement core technologies, such as Artificial intelligence (AI) and User interfaces; and application domains of these technologies, such as Vehicles, Enterprise and Home.

“During the last World Economic Forum in Davos, a particular focus was put on mapping trends in artificial intelligence technologies. In this regard, patent information is helping us obtain a better understanding of a subject that is currently capturing the imagination of business leaders, industry and the wider public,” explained EPO President Benoît Battistelli.

The number of relevant patents relating to all three 4IR sectors were found to have begun to rise steeply in the mid-1990s. More than 5 000 patent applications for inventions concerning autonomous objects were filed at the EPO in 2016 alone.

The majority of the inventions filed concern new applications domains (e.g. Personal, Enterprise, Vehicles) and inventions related to core technologies (Connectivity, Hardware and Software). However, the fastest growth rates are observed in enabling technologies such as 3D systems, Artificial intelligence or Power supply.

The study found that in 2016, Europe, the USA and Japan filed most 4IR patents followed by South Korea and China, mainly from ICT companies.

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