Study: China Far Outpacing U.S. in Worldwide Robotics Patents


The U.S. is fourth in robotics patents, behind China, Japan and South Korea.

China has become the clear global leader in the total number of robotics patents issued, with nearly triple the number of robotics patents granted per year as the United States, according to a lengthy study published Tuesday by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

The nonpartisan think-tank found China accounted for more than 25,000, or almost 35% of the global robotics patents between 2005 and 2019, nearly three times more than the 9,500 robotics patents granted by the U.S. over the same time period. The U.S. ranked fourth among nations, coming in behind South Korea (11,000) and Japan (15,000) in total number of robotics patents issued since 2005.

While the U.S. once dominated the global share of robotics patents issued, China reversed that trend a decade ago with its Made in China 2025 plan and is not slowing down its pace of robotics innovation. In 2019, China captured 5,400 robotics patents, or a 43% share of global robotics patents; conversely, the U.S. issued 2,100, or 17% of global robotics patents.

“The surge in Chinese patenting activity and robotics development may be the result of a deliberate government effort to garner a majority market share over China’s domestic robotics market and with that, become a world leader in robotics, as outlined in the Made in China 2025 plan,” the study states.

Meanwhile, CSET attributes America’s slide in robotics patents issued in part to struggles in adapting to or adopting emerging technologies.

“The United States has fallen significantly behind China in robotics patents output in part because of broader challenges associated with current U.S. intellectual property laws and their ability to adapt to innovation in emerging technologies such as robotics, AI, 5G telecommunications and quantum computing,” the study states.

The study indicates China grew its patent output by offering incentives to investors, companies and universities, including decreased tax rates for companies with a certain number of robotics patents.

There are bright spots in the CSET report for the U.S. For example, the U.S. leads the way in robotics patents in areas including aerospace, medical, military/security and telepresence, as well as robotics patents with artificial intelligence features. China, however, tops all nations in industrial robotics, transportation, agriculture, underwater applications, education and humanoid/exoskeletons. Japan leads in robotics patents for entertainment, control systems and vision, while South Korea tops all nations in issuing consumer-related robotics patents.

The report indicates that while Russia only accounts for 2% of all robotics patents, it is responsible for 17% of global military robotics patents, ranking third in the world behind the U.S. and China.

“While these rankings may seem higher than one would expect based on Russia's overall patent output, they are indicative of both the country’s priority areas for innovation (military robotics) and areas of traditional technological leadership (underwater technology),” the study states.

As the Biden administration turns its economic and national security focus on China, the report’s authors argue changes in the ways the federal government addresses emerging technologies will be critical to the U.S. fostering more robotics innovation.  

“Amending U.S. intellectual property policies, patent eligibility and patentability doctrine to better accommodate inventions related to emerging technologies such as AI and software for robotics is a critical step toward restoring U.S. leadership in this space,” the report states. “Moreover, to win the technology competition, the United States needs to work closely with its allies and partners. Notably, key U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea, and Germany are at the forefront of robotics innovation. There are therefore many opportunities for collaboration, including in research and development, standards-setting, and support for commercialization of inventions.”