China and the United States are ahead of the global competition to dominate artificial intelligence (AI), according to a study by the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published yesterday.
The study found US tech giant IBM had by far the biggest AI patent portfolio, with 8,920 patents, 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" - a machine-learning technique that includes speech recognition systems.
"The US 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.
US 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 criticising China for economic espionage and stealing intellectual property and company secrets.
Gurry acknowledged there were accusations about China's behaviour but there was no doubt it had embraced the global intellectual property system, with 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 analysed international patent filings, scientific publications, litigation filings and acquisition activity, and 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.
Much of that growth came from deep learning, which overtook robotics as it ballooned from 118 patent applications in 2013 to 2,399 in 2016.