Patent and SEP trends in autonomous driving technologies

Autonomous driving technology promises to disrupt and transform the automotive space as we know it, spurring a race between giants for the biggest breakthrough in human transportation since the airplane. In the past, organisations that were not native to the transport industry struggled to make a significant impact. This was largely due to the homogeneity of processes and vendors. The idea of software companies developing transportation systems would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, but it could soon be a reality. With the introduction of autonomous driving technology, the landscape is now two-pronged, with software and communication technology companies working on vehicles and automobile companies working on complex software concepts and sensors.

This article analyses large amounts of patent documents as well as standards contributions and SEPs declared to 5G, V2X and 802.11. In order to identify autonomous driving-related patents, the IPlytics Platform database was used to perform an extensive keyword search of worldwide filed patents in the field of autonomous driving technologies. The search was based on the patent’s content, making use of state-of-the-art stemming and semantic indexing methods. IPlytics identified 58,675 patents, which are part of 32,906 patent families (number of unique patents in the INPADOC database). Figure 1 illustrates the number of patent applications over yearly counts between 2009 and 2019. The graph shows an impressive growth trend in the last years. The amount of autonomous driving patents has quadrupled since 2016.

Figure 1: Autonomous driving patent applications per year


In order to identify patent ownership, IPlytics aggregates patents as to the patent portfolio of each company, making use of entity disambiguation techniques. Further, the patent applications are counted as to the corresponding patent family in order to count the number of unique patented inventions per company. Figure 2 shows that Toyota, Ford and General Motors are the three strongest autonomous driving-related patent owners, measured by patent family size. Six companies in the top 10 are from the United States and four are Asian. From a patent perspective it looks like Europe is far behind in the race for autonomous driving technologies, both in the automobile industry and tech sector.

Figure 2: Top 10 owners of autonomous driving patents

To identify at which patent office the patents have been filed, autonomous driving-related patents as to the office’s country were counted. As illustrated in Figure 3, most autonomous driving patents have been filed in the United States, followed by Japan and China.

Figure 3: Autonomous driving patents per country of application

IPlytics makes use of statistical patent valuation indicators to analyse strengths, weaknesses and positioning of patent portfolios. In total, it integrated seven indicators, two of which are shown in Figure 4.

The market coverage (MC) indicator estimates the patent family size by counting each country of a patent family divided by the country’s gross domestic product. The more countries in which a patent has been filed the higher the perceived international market potential for the patented invention.

The technical relevance (TR) indicator is calculated by counting the number of prior art citations that a patent receives (forward citations).

Figure 4 shows that only the patent portfolios of Alphabet (Google) and General Motors among the top 10 patent owners have a high TR score (a score higher than one is above average). On the other hand, all portfolios have an above-average MC score, which indicates that the owners consider their patents worthy enough to protect them internationally and further underlines the importance and potential that companies see in autonomous driving.

ApplicantShareMarket coverage Technical relevance
Toyota Motor Corporation3.47%1,140,85
Ford Motors Corporation3.33%1,730,59
General Motors Company2.08%1,581,08
Alphabet Inc1.74%1,571,21
Intel Corporation1.58%1,340,15
Hyundai Motor Company1.12%1,070,35
Samsung Group1.12%1,400,34
LG Electronics Inc1.12%1,590,68
Uber Technologies, Inc0.86%1,350,62
Qualcomm Inc0.84%1,470,76

IPlytics clustered patent families into industry applications. Figure 5 shows that mechanical engineering (35%) and instruments (34%) are nearly equally distributed followed by electrical engineering (27%). Autonomous driving is covering a variety of different fields of technology.

Sensors collect data, computers process this and then mechanical parts execute the computer’s commands. It is no surprise that 96% of the patents are in the mechanical engineering, instruments and electrical engineering sectors.


Figure 5: Distribution of industry sectors of autonomous driving technologies

One of the critical questions about autonomous driving is: on how many levels networking technology will be needed? The complexity of autonomous driving might make cloud computation necessary. This means a stable and reliable network connection is inevitable for the future of autonomous driving.

Driverless cars will have incredibly sophisticated systems, including high performance computers and an increasing number of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) sensors. Car manufacturers will be required to continuously increase bandwidths for both point-to-point data pipes and distributed network structures to meet new data demands.

(Source: IEEE Spectrum – ‘6 Key Connectivity Requirements of Autonomous Driving’)

These demands can only be fulfilled by standardising technologies. The interconnectivity of different systems and the communication across multiple devices relies on a common specification of standards. Standards development of complex technologies (eg, 4G/5G or WiFi) often integrates many patented solutions. Beyond the patent data analysis, it is also worth examining the companies that are actively involved in standards development, which in our analysis relates especially to V2X and 4G/5G standards as well as short-distance standards (eg, DSRC standards (802.11p)). These standards are specified in international meetings where companies submit technical contributions. Using IPlytics’s database and analytics, Figure 6 shows companies that have contributed to develop these standards by submitting technical contributions.

Figure 6: Top 10 contributors to autonomous driving standards

The top contributors to autonomous driving standards are LG Electronics, Huawei and Samsung. They are all mobile communication companies and have a combined share of 27% on autonomous driving standards at this point. In order to identify declarations of SEPs, IPlytics was used to search autonomous driving-related SEPs. Figure 7 shows that Huawei is the leading patent owner followed by LG, Intel and Samsung.

The standards and declared SEP analysis shows that as of yet, no car manufacturer or automotive supplier has been working on connectivity standards in the autonomous driving space.

Figure 7: Top 10 SEP declaring companies to autonomous driving standards


The patent analysis shows immense growth for autonomous driving technologies across different industries. Senior patent managers and patent directors involved in the transport industry should consider the following:

  • Future technologies involving autonomous driving will rely increasingly on patented technology.
  • Autonomous driving technologies, infotainment, navigation and communication will increasingly rely on patented technology standards such as 5G, V2X or 802.11p.
  • Licensing directors should consider royalty costs and appropriate security payments in advance.
  • Patent departments and R&D divisions should not only consider information retrieved from patent filing data, but also monitor standardisation activities and declarations of SEPs – analysing the interplay of patents and standards to quantify the IP risk potential.
  • The automotive industry should increase its activities in standards development to influence autonomous driving-related connectivity standards.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

Unlock unlimited access to all IAM content