Over the past few years, and after decades as little more than a mathematical curiosity, useful industrial applications of AI have become commonplace. AI is now recognized as one of the primary drivers of computing development. In 2018, Canadians Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun – the ‘godfathers of AI’ – received the Turing Award, computing’s highest honor, for their foundational work on deep learning. The International Data Corporation forecasts that worldwide revenues for the AI market will grow to nearly $330 billion in 2021, and will exceed $550 billion by 2024 (IDC Semiannual AI Tracker, January 2021).
Driven and enabled by the extraordinary growth of data globally, this surge in the AI industry has also spurred a flood of AI-related patenting. It is difficult to overstate the speed at which AI-based inventions have become part of the computing world and part of the patent landscape. Figure 1 shows the number of issued US patents per year that include AI-related terms in their description. In the early 2000s, around 1,000 US patents were issued each year that included the terms ‘back propagation’, ‘computer vision’, ‘object recognition’, ‘natural language processing’, ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘machine learning’ (ML) or ‘deep learning’. Beginning in about 2009, however, those numbers show nearly exponential growth. Similarly, a 2020 study by the EPO found that filings in the “core technologies underlying artificial intelligence” increased, on average, by 54.6% each year since 2010 (Patents and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the EPO). Evidently, protecting AI inventions has become more popular with every year.
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