Artificial intelligence, quantum computers and autonomous vehicles are among the fastest-growing areas of technology, with American companies often in the lead, according to a new study of U.S. patents issued over the past five years.
International Business Machines Corp. received the most patents in machine learning and quantum computers, while Ford Motor Co. is the most active in areas of vehicle navigation and control systems, according to the analysis by Fairview Research’s IFI Claims Patent Services.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued 352,013 patents last year, a 1% decrease that’s likely attributable to work-flow changes because of the coronavirus pandemic, said IFI Claims Chief Executive Mike Baycroft. IBM topped the list of patent recipients for the 28th year with 9,130 patents, while Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea was second with 6,415 new patents issued last year.
Of the top-10 fastest growing fields, IBM also was No. 1 in areas of quantum computers, machine learning and computer systems using neural networks that imitate how the human brain works. Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp. also ranked in the top five of those three areas.
“We are focused on areas where we think it will keep IBM competitive in the future,” said Kathryn Guarini, chief operating officer of IBM Research. “We see cloud, AI and quantum as the trifecta of technologies for the IT industry.”
The company, based in Armonk, New York, has integrated artificial intelligence into all areas of its business, she said. One of its new patents is for ways AI can understand conversational tones, such as when a person contacts customer service. It’s just one example that backs up a Brookings Institution report that AI is likely to transform white collar and higher paid jobs.
“It’s never our intent to replace the human,” Guarini said. “Our hope and our intent is that it makes all of us more efficient and improves productivity.”
Quantum computers, which use the movement of subatomic particles to process data in amounts that modern computers can’t handle, could create new ways for drug and agriculture companies to discover new compounds and financial service companies to improve encryption.
With the classical computers, “we’ve made tremendous progress, making it more efficient and secure,” Guarini said. “But there has not been a revolution in how the technology works, for decades and decades. Quantum is on a whole new level.”
Other fast-growing areas include display technology, with Samsung Display Co. in the lead; data transfer technology in computer design led by Intel Corp. and China’s Huawei Technologies Co., and plant and seed development led by Bayer AG’s Monsanto.
In the two areas involving autonomous vehicles, Toyota Motor Corp. and LG Electronics Inc., were the next highest recipients behind Ford.
The second-fastest growth area, albeit with a small number of overall patents, was in the area of electrical smoking devices with Philip Morris International Inc. as the top recipient over the past five years.
“Patents are a significant mechanism for companies to develop intellectual property assets,” Baycroft said. “This is how you compete in the global market.”