Baidu AI: unignorable cemented dominance in patent rankings

Zhang Yixiang, China IP,[Patent]



Artificial intelligence (AI) is a definitive force of the new round of technological revolution and industrial change, and has become the focus of international competition and industrial policy efforts in various countries. Driven by technological innovation, AI has been deeply integrated with all walks of life, propelling high-quality development and reshaping the world economy and human society.

AI platforms represented by deep learning frameworks and AI chips are becoming the infrastructure of companies, enabling intelligent transformation and transforming into real productivity. AI technology applications such as smart driving, smart cities, and smart medical care have emerged at an accelerated pace. Against such a background, every ordinary person living in reality can feel the power of AI in promoting social development and change. AI still epitomizes a new era in human imagination, but its close connection with reality has never been as real and tangible as it is today.

AI technology not only impacts modern work and life, but also is embodies vividly in a series of patent data. In January 2019, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published WIPO Technology Trends 2019 Artificial Intelligence, in which Baidu, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the like are identified as the world’s AI front runners. Furthermore, Baidu is the only Chinese company among the top 30 with its deep learning patent applications being ranked second. The following two years have witnessed Chinese AI-related companies and research institutions develop by leaps and bounds. On September 25, 2021, Questel, a global leading provider of intellectual property database services, released a panorama report Deep Learning 2021 Patent Landscape. On September 26, at the first edition of the China Digital Social Forum 2021 (CDS Forum) hosted by the China Academy of Information and Communication Technology (CAICT), the Intellectual Property Center of CAICT released the Report on Artificial Intelligence Open Source Ecology and Intellectual Property Rights (2021). On October 15, at the Second Conference on the Integration of Informatization and Industrialization and Digital Transformation, the China Research Center for Industry Information Security and Development and the Electronic Intellectual Property Center of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released the Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China. These reports have offered a glimpse of the trends and power patterns of AI technology development around the globe and in China. In the field of AI, China is not longer a backward and passive follower. It instead leads the world by having overtaken the United States in the number of AI patents granted. In China, Baidu is recognized as an AI bellwether by outperforming in terms of number of patent applications, number of patents granted, and quality of patents, with its first-ranked deep learning patent applications in the world.

Baidu leads China’s AI field in both quantity and quality

AI, as a frontier technology, is attracting more and more attention in China. The China Research Center for Industry Information Security and Development and the Electronic Intellectual Property Center of the MIIT have been issuing AI patent analysis reports every year since 2018. Of which, the 2021 report, entitled Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China (hereinafter referred to as the "Report"), takes AI patent quality as an important component of analysis to make a quantitative summary of the current development trend of AI technology patents in China. The Report pointed out that with the iterative development of technology and the gradual improvement of the industrial ecology, China’s AI patents continue to maintain an explosive growth trend. As of September 2021, China's total number of patent applications in the AI field amounted to 909,401 with 253,811 patents granted. Baidu, Tencent, the State Grid, Huawei, and Alibaba are among the top companies in terms of AI patent applications and patent quality, While Baidu, specifically, topped the list for the fourth consecutive year, with 13,007 patent applications and 3,652 patents granted.

The Report points out that AI technology is developing in an all-around way in China, with 14 technologies categorized into four modules, i.e. general-purpose technology (deep learning, knowledge graphs, smart chips, and quantum computing), key-field technology (natural language processing, intelligent speech, computer vision, and intelligent retrieval), application technology (smart city, intelligent map, intelligent medical treatment, and intelligent driving), and supporting technology (big data and cloud computing). Massive progress has been made in the 4 modules. General-purpose technology has been subject to biggest innovation. Application technology, of all application technologies, has seen largest number of patents. Intelligent driving patents figure predominantly in the module of AI application technology. Deep learning, as a branch of the general-purpose technology module, is growing the fastest. And specifically, Baidu tops the list of patent filings in various fields, including deep learning, intelligent driving, natural language processing, intelligent speech, knowledge graphs, intelligent recommendation, intelligent maps, computer vision, intelligent healthcare, and smart cities, showcasing a full array of innovative capabilities. The Report is highly assertive about the aggressive investment policy on basic, cutting-edge, and disruptive AI research and patent portfolios of Baidu and some other domestic companies.

At present, China is in a critical stage of transition from high-speed development to high-quality development, while in the field of intellectual property rights, the country has issued the Guidelines for Building a Powerful Country with Intellectual Property Rights (2021-2035), which proposes to "coordinate the interactive relationship between the government and the market, the domestic and international arenas, as well as the quantity and quality of intellectual property rights, and the demand and supply sides" to "improve the enterprise-centered and market-oriented high-quality creation mechanism." In such a context, the Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China focuses on the theme of the times, i.e. high-quality development, with innovation as a construct of a high-value AI patent evaluation system, and evaluates the innovation driving power of the above-mentioned 14 branches of AI patent technologies, forming a ranking list of "high-value AI patents and innovation driving force". Baidu has topped the list again with a score of 92.24, followed closely by Tencent, Huawei and others. In addition, the Report also provides a statistical analysis of the China Patent Awards received in the AI field, with Baidu as the Chinese enterprise with the largest number of awards and ranking the highest in the AI category. In June 2021, Baidu won a Gold Medal for an AI interactive patent, the first Gold Medal for AI technology.

It is reported that the patent value evaluation system adopted has incorporated the evaluation of the external competitiveness and influence induced by the overall value of the patents on the innovation subjects, besides the attention to the individual value of the patents, and takes into comprehensive consideration of multi-dimensional factors such as technology, market, industry, sector, society, and policy, to scientifically measure the role and impact of high-value patents on the high-quality development of innovation subjects. A large number of high-value AI patents that Baidu has meticulously created over the years have not only improved the company’s own technical strength and industry status, but also produced a value-leading and exemplary role in promoting the high-quality development of the entire Chinese artificial intelligence industry and boosting the prosperity of related industries. It has far-reaching positive significance to enhance the well-being of the whole society. In the field of AI, Baidu has always left people with the impression that it is a company that is highly focused on research and development. With the constant investment and accumulation of innovation, Baidu has injected value and energy beyond the technology itself into AI technology.

An AI ecology is formed by Baidu with its areas of innovation spanning from basic technology to industry application

Over the years, China's AI companies, with Baidu as one of the representatives, have been centering on independent innovation, open cooperation, and improved quality of development to promote the transformation of China's artificial intelligence from a catch-up status to the position as an innovation leader in various aspects, from basic AI platforms to key common technologies and technologies in major fields such as algorithms, and from research and development innovation to the practice and realization of an open ecology. Along with that, AI technology has also been taking root and growing in reality and, relying on the already established, highly-open, and shared AI ecology, has entered thousands of households, bringing convenience to people's lives, and been integrated into all walks of life, injecting new productivity for the industry.

AI general-purpose technologies

Deep learning is an indispensable and fundamental core technology to achieve industrial intelligent transformation and independent and controllable AI, as well as a key technology that Chinese enterprises in the AI sector have found necessary to focus their efforts on. For years, Baidu has been making focused and continuous efforts in deep learning and has accumulated impressive patent advantages at home and internationally. In January 2019, WIPO released the Technology Trends 2019 Artificial Intelligence, which ranked Baidu second in the world in terms of patent applications for deep learning, and recent research has shown that Baidu has already leaped from this second position to the first. Recently, Questel released the report of Deep Learning 2021 Patent Landscape, a global panorama of deep learning patents, which reviews the development trend of global patents in deep learning in the past decade through detailed statistics and provides an in-depth analysis of the R&D directions and technological advantages of main patentees in the field. The report shows that 43 out of the top 50 organizations for deep learning patent applications are from China, with Baidu ranking global No. 1 with 2,522 applications, ahead of its global rivals such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Samsung.

Backed by its years of innovation in deep learning technology, business applications, and solid patent strength, Baidu has built "PaddlePaddle", a deep learning platform featuring the characteristics of technological innovation, independence and improvement during China's 13th Five-Year Plan. PaddlePaddle has achieved full independence in its underlying framework and is a platform where many of Baidu's world-leading core AI technologies are pooled. It has also leveled the playing field of AI use for companies and developers in the industry, and has been building and expanding an open-source ecology of AI in China. It is reported that PaddlePaddle has attracted 3.7 million developers, served 140,000 enterprises and institutions, created 425,000 models that span multiple sectors including industry, agriculture, healthcare, urban management, transportation, and finance, forming an AI open source ecosystem with deep impacts in various industries. According to the report on Market Shares of Deep Learning Framework Platforms for the First Half of 2021 issued by IDC, Baidu's PaddlePaddle has leaped to first place in China's market of deep learning platforms, and is continuing to grow. As China's first independently-developed, fully functional, open-source and industrial-level deep learning platform, PaddlePaddle has not only filled the gap in China's basic technology base for deep learning but also broken the monopoly of European countries and the United States on deep learning frameworks. The great strategic significance of PaddlePaddle’s emergence is self-evident in the context of the restrictions and threats from foreign technologies today.

Quantum computing is fundamental AI general-purpose technology. As a leading AI company, Baidu deems its investment in quantum computing as a natural fit. According to the comprehensive index measurement in the Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China, Baidu ranks first among China's innovators in terms of the quality of its quantum computing patents, another proof of the company's leading position in the field of underlying AI technologies. By far, Baidu has built a quantum platform featuring the three projects of Quanlse, Paddle Quantum, and Quantum Leaf, with the aim to provide a comprehensive quantum infrastructure-as-a-service (QaaS), the vision of "quantum for all". As predicted by a significant number of scholars, the next big step in AI may be lurking in the chain reaction of quantum computing technology development, for which Baidu has fully prepared itself for.

Key AI technologies

Recently, metaverse has attracted heated debates in the global technology scene. AI technologies, such as intelligent speech, natural language processing, computer vision (including augmented reality and virtual reality) and knowledge graph, will become crucial infrastructures for the metaverse and suggest infinite possibilities for the VR industry in the metaverse. The Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China provides a quantitative analysis of patent applications, patents granted, and patent quality in various fields such as natural speech processing, intelligent speech, knowledge graph, computer vision and intelligent recommendation. According to the report, Baidu and Tencent have been performing brilliantly, with Baidu ranking first in China both in terms of application quantity and patent quality in these five fields and in terms of the number of patent grants in three fields (natural speech processing, intelligent speech and intelligent recommendation), implying an overall leading edge of the company. Tencent follows closely behind.

Baidu's layout of leading AI patents will provide strong supports for the construction of important infrastructures in the metaverse. At the Summit Online of the 2021 World Conference on VR Industry, Baidu expressed its desire to become an "infrastructure maniac" of the metaverse, using its powerful AI technologies to do a good job in the infrastructural construction of the metaverse. The "one-sentence to generate images" technology unveiled at Baidu World 2021 has managed to combine different technologies such as augmented reality, knowledge graph, speech recognition, natural language processing and image recognition, as well as massive character and knowledge data, achieving multi-modal technology integration. This intelligent solution of 3D virtual image generation will make the complex, inefficient and costly work of 3D image creation as simple as talks. All users need to do is to give a simple description before a personalized avatar is generated.

Baidu has been in a strong position in the various fields it has focused on, including natural language processing, intelligent voice, knowledge graph and intelligent search, with the highest number of patent applications in recent years, and the quality of its patents has also made a breakthrough. Baidu's invention patent "AI-based human-computer interaction method and system" has won the Gold Award of the China Patent Award, which integrates the use of knowledge graph and deep learning technologies to achieve intelligent human-computer interaction across language, speech and image modalities based on deep semantic understanding, and has been widely applied in multiple products including Baidu Search, Baidu Map, DuSmart Speaker. It has also been used in other various industries and sectors, such as telecommunication, energy, finance, government, healthcare and education, empowering them to achieve intelligent industry upgrading. On November 3, 2021, at the 2020 State Science and Technology Awarding Meeting of the People's Republic of China held in Beijing, Baidu's "Key Technology and Application of Knowledge-Augmented Cross-Modal Semantic Understanding" won the second prize of the National Technology Invention Award. The technology is a key breakthrough in the field of natural language processing.

As the world's largest Chinese search engine, Baidu ranks first in intelligent recommendation with 1,611 patent applications and 709 patents granted. In terms of computer vision, Baidu jumped from the third place in 2020 to the first in 2021 in patent application. In the 6th Beijing Invention Patent Award in 2021, Baidu's computer vision patent won the first prize, the only AI patent that had won the first prize among all the prizes awarded by the Beijing Invention Patent Awards.

AI application technology

Autonomous driving is currently one of the largest application scenarios of AI technology around the globe, and it is also one of the AI technology branches that Baidu focuses on. In the field of autonomous driving, Baidu has not only developed substantial technological advantages, but also replied on its own intellectual property rights to provide an open, complete and safe autonomous driving platform-Baidu Apollo to partners in the automotive industry and the field of autonomous driving.

Data from the Report on Artificial Intelligence Open Source Ecology and Intellectual Property Rights (2021) by the Intellectual Property Center of CAICT shows that as of August 2021, the applications for patents for autonomous driving inventions in China numbered around 304,300 and the patents granted numbered about 78,300. Baidu topped the list once again, surpassing foreign automotive giants such as Toyota, Ford, Bosch, Honda, and General Motors. The Report also points out that a number of Chinese open-source projects, such as Baidu Apollo, have built up a complete open-source IPR compliance system and become top global open-source projects. A similar conclusion was subsequently drawn in the Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China released by the China Research Center for Industry Information Security and Development and the Electronic Intellectual Property Center of the MIIT, with Baidu ranking first in China in terms of the number of patent applications and the quality of patents in intelligent driving.

Baidu Apollo was inaugurated in April 2017 and, after more than four years of development, has expanded from the field of autonomous driving to the whole intelligent transportation system, forming three major open platforms for autonomous driving, intelligent transportation, and intelligent vehicle connection. At present, Apollo L4 autonomous driving has exceeded a road test mileage of 16 million kilometers with 210 ecological partners, who represent almost all the world's mainstream car manufacturers, tier-1 parts suppliers, chip companies, sensor companies, traffic integrators, and travel companies. It has spanned the whole industry chain from hardware to software and brought together 65,000 developers worldwide, with open source codes of 700,000 lines, forming a prosperous intelligent driving industry ecology.

The new infrastructure initiative has also presented new opportunities for the development of smart healthcare and smart cities. Healthcare is an important field for AI application technology and relevant to people's livelihood. The deep integration of the new generation of information technologies, represented by AI, and the medical industry, has been driving the medical industry towards the era of smart healthcare. And thanks to its first-mover advantage, Baidu has already seized the high ground in this aspect and has been actively designing its patent portfolio for intelligent healthcare. In December 2020, the Intellectual Property Development & Research Center for the China National Intellectual Property Administration released the Survey and Research Report on the Development of Intellectual Property Rights in New Infrastructures (Artificial Intelligence), which showed that in the field of intelligent healthcare, Baidu ranked first in China in terms of patent applications. The latest Report on the Analysis of High-Value Patents and Innovation Drivers of Artificial Intelligence in China also shows that Baidu tops the list of patents in smart healthcare and smart cities. With its leading AI technologies and patent portfolio, Baidu has empowered the intelligent development of cities and industries related to people's livelihood, helping to create a better and more livable urban life for people.

Innovation determines the future. If AI can be regarded as exciting uncharted seas and stars beckoning to humans, technological innovation is simply the way humans are paving to reach them, with patents being the accelerators to achieve it. Setting "AI for better" and patented technology as the goal and tool respectively, Chinese companies, with Baidu as one of the representatives, not only hope to empower their own AI technology research and development, but also aim to advance the advent of a new era of AI in China. In due course, the ultimate ideal of using technology to change the world will shine equally over every industry, every company, and even every ordinary person including you and me. 

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