Accelerating Trends in Self-Driving Vehicles: A Patent Landscape Analysis
Recent patent measurements reveal a rapid acceleration in innovation within the self-driving vehicle (SDV) sector, hinting at the advent of a transportation revolution. According to an analysis conducted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in collaboration with the European Council for Automotive R&D (EUCAR), European patent applications related to automated driving have surged at a rate five times faster than other technologies in recent years.
From 2011 to 2017, patent applications for automated driving at the EPO witnessed a remarkable 330% increase, compared to a mere 16% growth across all technologies during the same period. Over the past decade, the EPO has received a staggering 18,000 patent applications associated with self-driving vehicles, with 4,000 applications in 2017 alone.
Notably, the study reveals that half of the top 25 companies actively engaged in the self-driving vehicle domain at the EPO, including the top four applicants, are not traditional automotive or transport entities but rather information, communication, and technology (ICT) firms.
Driving Forces Behind the Revolution
EPO President António Campinos emphasizes the comprehensive insights provided by this analysis into the intersection of automotive and digital technologies. As the automotive and digital sectors converge, significant shifts in the patent landscape become apparent, with patents serving as indicators of technological trends ahead of product market presence.
Mapping the SDV Patent Landscape
Leveraging the expertise of patent inspectors and cutting-edge search tools, the EPO conducted an exhaustive analysis of all European patent applications related to self-driving vehicles filed until the end of 2017. These 18,000 applications form the basis for mapping a new kind of innovation, blending features from ICT and established automotive technologies.
For the purpose of the study, patent applications were categorized into two main technology sectors:
- Computerized Vehicle Platform: Encompassing technologies embodied within the vehicle itself, including innovations facilitating autonomous decision-making, vehicle handling, and underlying hardware/software advancements.
- Smart Environment: Involving technologies enabling self-driving vehicles to interact with each other and their surroundings, covering vehicle connectivity, communication infrastructure, traffic management, vehicle identification, automated parking, and interfaces between vehicles and the power system.
Innovation Across Diverse Industries
Self-driving vehicle innovations originate from diverse companies spanning various industries. The study reveals that nearly half of the self-driving vehicle applications from the top 500 EPO applicants between 2011 and 2017 come from firms operating in the “Automotive” (29.3%), “Other Transport” (7.7%), or related “Electronics and Electrical Equipment” (12.1%) industries. Information and communication technology (ICT) and Telecommunications companies contribute significantly, accounting for 32.8% and 13.6% of the SDV applications, respectively.
Global Leadership in SDV Technology
An analysis of regional contributions indicates that Europe and the United States have emerged as leaders in SDV technology, collectively representing around two-thirds of all self-driving vehicle patent applications at the EPO since 2011. European companies excel in vehicle handling, smart logistics, and perception, analysis, and decision-making. Meanwhile, U.S. applicants dominate in communication and computing technologies. Within Europe, Germany leads the SDV innovation landscape, with significant contributions also coming from France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
Patent Strategies Resembling the ICT Sector
Patents play a pivotal role in shaping automated driving technologies, safeguarding development, and facilitating commercialization, often necessitating strategic guidance from Business Legal Services. The study reveals that patent protection strategies in the self-driving vehicle sector closely align with those in the ICT industry rather than traditional automotive practices. Applicants prioritize broad protection through larger “patent families,” seeking regional or global protection from patent offices, emphasizing the importance of extensive international coverage in the digital vehicle market.