The UK ranked fourth in the world for the number of blockchain patents filed but is falling behind for AI patents with Chinese companies having a big lead in developing Artificial Intelligence technology.

A new study by UHY Hacker Young shows that 11% of all global patents for blockchain technology were filed by UK businesses in 2017 – ranking them fourth in the world – with 34 patents from a total of 314 filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

No other country in the European Union makes it into the Top 10 countries for number of patents related to blockchain filed with WIPO.

In comparison, Chinese businesses filed 32% of all global patents for blockchain technology in 2017. Chinese businesses have invested heavily in blockchain technology in recent years, with the Chinese central bank supporting the development of a blockchain-based trade finance platform to help SMEs access finance.

The study shows that US businesses are close behind with 92 global patents (29%), followed by Australian businesses with 40 patents (13%), just ahead of the UK.

UHY revealed that the biggest filer of global blockchain patents in 2017 was nChain, a blockchain-focused research firm based in London and Vancouver, which filed 48 patents for blockchain technology at WIPO.

Patents for new blockchain technology

The study shows, however, that UK businesses are falling behind China and other international rivals in the development of patented Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, filing just 2 patents from a total of 649 Artificial Intelligence patents (less than 1%) with WIPO in 2017.

China is ahead of its global competitors by some distance in the race to build portfolios of intellectual property in Artificial Intelligence. Chinese businesses filed 473 out of the 649 Artificial Intelligence patents (31%) filed with WIPO in the period.

UHY said that Chinese businesses like Baidu – often described as the ‘Google of China’ – and technology and social media conglomerate Tencent are among the world’s leading developers of Artificial Intelligence technology. Baidu filed the most Artificial Intelligence patents at WIPO in 2017, with 183.

The accountancy firm said that even though the UK is falling behind international rivals for the number of Artificial Intelligence related patents filed with WIPO, the UK remains a key hub for the sector. For example AI company, Deepmind, is headquartered in London. It made headlines in January 2018 for developing the AlphaGo computer programme which beat GO world champion, Lee Sedol, in a five-game match.

Global competition over Artificial Intelligence technology has heated up in recent years, with many national governments putting in place programmes to support businesses and universities in developing AI clusters and bringing technology to market.

For instance, to help increase R&D in Artificial Intelligence, in April 2018 the UK Government announced a £1bn funding package to support the development of the UK AI industry. The package aims to establish the UK as a leading research hotspot, with money for training 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded Artificial Intelligence PhDs and a commitment to develop a Turing Fellowship programme.

Patents for new Artificial Intelligence technology

Andrew Snowdon, partner at UHY Hacker Young, said: “If the UK is to maintain its strong position as a hub for new technology, the government needs to ensure more businesses patent their Intellectual Property.

“Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence could unlock significant economic growth and the UK is one of the world’s leaders for developing newer technologies.

“The UK has historically been at the forefront of research in the fields of both Artificial Intelligence and blockchain. As the home to companies such as DeepMind, Improbable and 5AI, the UK continues to be a key leader in the development of these new technologies.

“However, the UK is beginning to lag behind its rivals in developing and patenting some of these new technologies. With the formal Brexit date on the horizon, the government needs to ensure the UK remains an attractive place for tech businesses. This could include initiatives such as targeted tax credits designed to encourage increased research and development in this area.

“Developing Artificial Intelligence technology is also going to be critical in determining which businesses will emerge as leaders for the next industrial revolution. The UK Government may need to consider proposals that offer more R&D tax credits for Artificial Intelligence development for businesses.”