China and the United States are at the forefront of the global competition to dominate artificial intelligence (AI), according to a study done by the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which was published on Thursday.
The study found U.S. tech giant IBM had by far the biggest AI patent portfolio, with 8,920 patents. This was ahead of Microsoft with 5,930 and a group of mainly Japanese tech conglomerates.
China accounted for 17 of the top 20 academic institutions involved in patenting AI and was particularly strong in the fast growing area of “deep learning.” This is a machine-learning technique that includes speech recognition systems.
“The U.S. and China obviously have stolen a lead. They’re out in front in this area, in terms of numbers of applications, and in scientific publications,” WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry told a news conference.
U.S. President Donald Trump has accused China of stealing American innovations and technology and has slapped trade tariffs on $234 billion of Chinese goods to punish Beijing.
China said in December it resolutely opposed “slanderous” accusations from the United States and other allies criticizing China for economic espionage and stealing intellectual property and company secrets.
Gurry acknowledged the accusations about China’s behavior but indicated there was no doubt it had embraced the global intellectual property system. They have the world’s largest patent office and the largest number of domestic patent applications.
“They are serious players in the field of intellectual property,” he said.
The WIPO study looked at international patent filings, scientific publications, litigation filings and acquisition activity. They found there had been as many patent applications for AI since 2013 as in the half century since the term was coined in the 1950s.
The single most popular AI application was computer vision, used in self-driving cars, and mentioned in 49 percent of all AI-related patents.
However, the world does not have any reliable way of measuring the quality of patent applications.
“If you did, you wouldn’t need a venture capital industry,” he said.