Michael Webb, Nick Short, Nicolas Bloom, Nicholas and Josh Lerner's Harvard Business School (HBS) Entrepreneurial Management Working Paper No. 19-014 and HBS Finance Working Paper No. 19-014 Some Facts of High-Tech Patenting (July 2018) provides an overview on technologies people are seeking to patent. See the charts on pages 5-7.
From the abstract: "Patenting in software, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence has grown rapidly in recent years. Such patents are acquired primarily by large US technology firms such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, and HP, as well as by Japanese multinationals such as Sony, Canon, and Fujitsu. Chinese patenting in the US is small but growing rapidly, and world-leading for drone technology. Patenting in machine learning has seen exponential growth since 2010, although patenting in neural networks saw a strong burst of activity in the 1990s that has only recently been surpassed. In all technological fields, the number of patents per inventor has declined near-monotonically, except for large increases in inventor productivity in software and semiconductors in the late 1990s. In most high-tech fields, Japan is the only country outside the US with significant US patenting activity; however, whereas Japan played an important role in the burst of neural network patenting in the 1990s, it has not been involved in the current acceleration. Comparing the periods 1970-89 and 2000-15, patenting in the current period has been primarily by entrant assignees, with the exception of neural networks."
The article notes "the growth of software patents increased sharply after 2000, particularly when patent applications are considered. The number of software patent applications grew by 168.6% between 2000 and 2013. This growth mirrors that of patents more generally: patent applications overall grew by 122.6% over the same period. As we move into more recent technologies, such as cloud, drones, machine learning, and self-driving cars, the growth is far more dramatic. Meanwhile, the number of issued awards in internal combustion engines and pharmaceuticals, included for the sake of comparison, has been nearly flat."
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