A year in review: key 2023 analytics reveal top global innovators

The 2023 innovation landscape has been dynamic and fast moving. This makes the start of the new year an opportune time to revisit valuable data and trends from published reports and articles illustrates the development and impact of intellectual property in various fields, including progress on sustainable innovation, breakthroughs in the medical industry, advancements in engineering patenting, the rise of autonomous driving and 5G’s transformative capabilities.

The top 100 most dynamic innovators

Five industries dominated our “2023 Innovation Momentum: The Global Top 100” list – pharmaceuticals, IT, chemicals and materials, electronics and semiconductors.

Our second annual “Innovation Momentum: The Global Top 100 report sheds light on the most promising and active players in 2023 by looking at the dynamics of technology development over the past two years. The report featured 27 patent owners that were not on the 2022 list, highlighting the constant evolution of the innovation landscape and the speed at which technology advances. Other key insights include the following:

  • Most patent owners in the top 100 are headquartered in the United States, which is also home to almost half of the owners in the IT space.
  • In the Asia-Pacific region, China, Japan and Korea continue to demonstrate their traditional strength in electronics, as well as in the chemicals and materials sector.
  • Academia remains a rich source of innovation, with leading universities and institutions found in countries across the globe, from the United States to China, France, Germany and Korea.

The breakdown of the number of innovators by industry sector and region

Global leaders in sustainable innovation

Companies are increasingly aligning their strategies with sustainable development, with 75% of the top 100 global corporate patent portfolio owners stating the relevance of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG) to their business objectives.

Sustainability has fast become the world’s most critical initiative. In a first-of-its-kind IP report, “Exploring the Global Sustainable Innovation Landscape: The Top 100 Companies and Beyond”, we focused entirely on the state of sustainable innovation, assessing the global patent landscape from an SDG perspective and revealing the top 100 most sustainable technology leaders in the world – ranked based on the quality of sustainability-related inventions. Through a patent lens, we presented a comprehensive view of the current sustainable innovation landscape and celebrated the top global companies developing the most substantial innovation in sustainable technologies. Key findings include the following:

  • Over the past 20 years, the number and strength of SDG-related patents has nearly tripled, aligning with the growth rate of all patent holdings and filings.
  • The top three sustainable leaders by the absolute strength of their SDG-related patent portfolios are Samsung, Johnson & Johnson and Toyota Motor.
  • The leading goals among the top 100 companies according to absolute strength (Patent Asset Index) are SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being.

Growth in quantity (left) and share (right) of SDG-related patent holdings by strength (Patent Asset Index)

The share of the top SDGs by Patent Asset Index of the Top 100

Leaders in the 5G patent race

Competition in the 5G patent sphere has intensified, carrying significant geopolitical implications as countries strive for dominance in crucial technologies.

Beyond royalties, the pursuit involves maintaining leadership in industrial value chains. The landscape reveals several crucial analytics:

  • There are over 60,000 declared 5G patent families – growing by 5,000 annually – and 131 unique owners, showcasing increased participation and evolving dynamics.
  • While the top 10 owners control 76%, ownership is becoming more fragmented.
  • Chinese companies represent 32% of declared 5G patent families and 48% of SEP licensees, a trend spanning eight years. 

Driving towards tomorrow: those in the fast lane of autonomous driving

In the last decade, the autonomous driving space has witnessed a surge in innovation, reflected in an explosive proliferation of patents. Looking to patent data to navigate the dynamic landscape and highlighting key players and trends that define the industry's trajectory:

  • Leadership and competition – Baidu emerges as the clear leader in autonomous driving patent development, surpassing other major players like Alphabet, GM and Ford. Baidu's strong presence indicates China's prominence in this technological domain.
  • Industry dynmaics – the top players in autonomous driving include a mix of traditional automotive original equipment manufacturers, such as GM, Ford and Toyota Motor, along with tech companies like Alphabet, Nvidia and Qualcomm.
  • Technology strength and innovation – the competitive impact metric, which considers both competitive impact and portfolio size, highlights that tech giants like Alphabet demonstrate higher competitive impact, while traditional automotive players exhibit lower impact.

Strategic position of the top 10 players in the sub-technology field of “Smart” in autonomous driving in terms of patent portfolio competitive impact and portfolio size

High-performance computing semiconductor innovators are powering the AI revolution

The top 20 semiconductor manufacturers driving the AI revolution include pure play foundries, hybrid manufacturers like Samsung and Intel, equipment suppliers like ASM International and Applied Materials and integrated device manufacturers (IDM) like Western Digital and Infineon.

AI applications (eg, ChatGPT and autonomous driving systems) have taken the world by storm. Behind this AI revolution lies a remarkable story of innovation and advancements in semiconductor device manufacturing (SDM). Patent analysis reveals key findings in the semiconductor industry, shedding light on the manufacturers and technologies that underpin the AI boom (see “Patent analysis reveals high-performance computing semiconductors behind AI boom”). It also provides in-depth insights into the critical components of this industry, particularly advanced CMOS logic and advanced packaging, which fuels central processing units and graphics processing units.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company has the largest patent portfolio and highest portfolio strength measured by the Patent Asset Index, emphasising its position in advanced manufacturing. Samsung and ASM International rank in second and third, respectively. IBM stands as an R&D powerhouse. There are also new entrants, such as Beijing Zhiguangxin Holding and Tsinghua Unigroup.

The top 20 SDM patent owners ranked by portfolio strength measured by the Patent Asset Index

The global impact of China’s emerging market

We took a deep dive into the data to reveal clear trends about the future of engineering and how international players are reacting to the growing Chinese influence.

Over the past 20 years, the development of the Chinese economy has been closely monitored and remains a topic of continual discussion. Its growth has outpaced all other countries by a wide margin, quickly propelling China to the number two spot in terms of global gross national income. China’s machinery exports have continuously increased over the last 20 years, and have now even surpassed those of Germany.

China’s development in the engineering space can be seen not only in its market growth and balance of trade but also by innovation in the space. Over the same 20-year period, the share of inventions protected in China has shifted from being less than 5% to nearly 50% today. This shift is driven by several factors, including:

  • the Chinese government’s past promotion of engagement with the patent system;
  • the development of the Chinese market for engineering products and services; and
  • Chinese players entering this market to serve these needs on top of the established international players.

Engineering patents by industry sectors and location invented

Full speed ahead into 2024

These insights into the 2023 IP landscape highlight the shifts that are shaping global IP dynamics, as well as crucial trends and innovative leaps across various industries. This collection also demonstrates how comprehensive data analytics can empower IP departments to align their IP strategies with broader business objectives.

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