November 17, 2023

Artificial Intelligence Patent Trends

4 min

This article was also published Westlaw Today.

The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing industries across the globe and transforming the way we live and work. As AI continues to grow in popularity, a fascinating trend is emerging in parallel: a rise in AI patent applications.

Patent applications are strong indicators of where businesses see future innovation and technological value moving to within their industries. In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of patent applications related to AI and machine learning (ML) technologies.

Our recent analysis of search trends on Google over the past two years (November 2021-2023) indicates a 367% increase in searches relevant to AI patenting. Furthermore, our analysis of U.S. patent filing records indicates that the appearance of terms such as "machine learning" in public patent applications grew from 5,500 occurrences in 2011 to over 100,000 occurrences across patent offices throughout the world in 2021. Similarly, in 2011, the term "artificial intelligence" appeared in public patent applications over 5,000 times, and by 2021 this term appeared over 100,000 times.

Review of pending applications reveals AI-related patents that seek to cover numerous emerging technologies. For example, the autonomous and electric vehicle industries are working to harness AI systems that help navigate complex road environments, make real-time decisions, and ensure safe and efficient transportation.

Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry is using AI to improve diagnostics, drug discovery, and patient care. AI algorithms analyze vast amounts of medical data, including patient records, imaging scans, and genomic information, to aid in disease diagnosis, treatment planning, and personalized medicine.

AI systems for use by banks, financial institutions, and fintech companies are being developed. According to The Economist, a 2022 survey of IT executives in banking found that 85% have a "clear strategy" for "adopting AI in the development of new products and services," while a 2023 Forbes survey found that a third of surveyed C-suite executives had already seen “tangible gains” from the use of AI in their organizations. AI-related patents in this area cover everything from actuarial tasks to automation of asset management, blockchain, cryptocurrency, insurance, robo-advisors, and securing digital transactions.

In the music industry, instrumentalization enhancement and music generation are AI tools that have assisted artists in the field—however, there have also been numerous instances of artists' images and voices being replicated using AI technology. Most notoriously, several AI-generated songs appeared on social media platforms, which were falsely purported to be created by the artist Drake.

Next, in our analysis of AI relevant data from to 2000 to 2023, we noticed that there is also a pattern of "booms" where there have been large increases in overall AI patent investment, followed by "busts" where the growth in the number of new AI patent applications slows (though rarely decreases) for a time before the next boom phase. For example, following the meteoric rise in AI patents from 2000 to 2002, the boom continued until the financial crisis of 2008, which was again followed by aggressive growth from 2010 to 2015.

Given our ongoing analysis and findings above, we note that there are actions that any enterprise can take to ensure they are better positioned for the impact of AI technologies:

  • Organize your data. All current AI relies on pattern recognition to make predictions based on past examples. For a company to make efficient use of future AI advancements, organization and storage of data is of utmost importance.
  • Identify and prioritize the aspects of your business that require creativity or a personal connection. Creativity and personal connections are aspects that, at least in the near term, AI cannot fully replace, so these will eventually become the "core" elements for distinguishing your brand, products, and services.
  • Plan for how your enterprise will embrace AI. Do you plan on developing your own AI tools (and seeking to establish IP around those AI tools)? Or do you plan to license tools others create?

The recent surge in the popularity of AI has had a profound impact on innovation and intellectual property, making it crucial for businesses to understand the relationship between AI and the increased competition, if they are to successfully protect the value of their unique and impactful innovations. Given the pace of development and utilization of AI systems in nearly every industry, we expect to see continued and intense interest over the next five years in patenting AI systems for myriad consumer and industry-focused applications.

If you have questions about AI-related patent applications, contact Justin Pierce, Timothy McDonald, Ryan Ward, or any professional on Venable's Intellectual Property team.

* The authors would like to thank Venable technical advisor and patent agent Timothy J. McDonald for his assistance in drafting this article.