More than 1,200 patent publications focused on using artificial intelligence for retail and e-commerce applications have been filed worldwide over the last five years, many of them by e-commerce giants such as Amazon and eBay, according to a press release provided by market intelligence and content management firm Netscribes, which summarizes the company’s study of the patent filings.
According to Netscribes research, the U.S. has the highest number of patents filed for AI technologies, followed by China, India and the continent of Europe. Also, patent filings increased steadily between 2013 and 2015.
Netscribes also found that the top patent assignees of recent years include eBay, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM.
The whitepaper, titled "Artificial Intelligence in Retail: Patent Analysis," suggests that the publication of patent filings may have peaked in 2015, with 329 publications that year, before drifting down to 296 in 2016. Prior to 2015, there were 128 AI-related patent filings published in 2012, 191 in 2013 and 224 in 2014. There have been only 54 published this year, though Netscribes stressed that there is often an 18-month lag between when patents are filed and when they are published.
That means that companies seeking AI-related patents were actually very busy between late 2013 and mid-2014, trying to stake out some intellectual property ground in a technology field that could radically affect many aspects of retail and e-commerce in the years to come.
AI is already being used to transform how retailers and brands engage with customers, via chatbots, personalized product recommendations and other features. It is also being used to fight fraud, and could be used increasingly in logistics and fulfillment, along with many other applications.
So it makes sense that many companies — for the most part e-commerce titans — were working aggressively early on to establish technology they could cash in on in the long run. More than 700 of the more than 1,200 patent filings published since 2012 came from the U.S., and most were based on filings from a small handful of the biggest companies.
It is perhaps fitting that Amazon, eBay, Google and Facebook sit at the top of the list, as these companies in particular have made high-profile AI technology investments. Three of those four — Amazon, Google and Facebook — also created an AI best practices alliance a year ago this month to address issues of ethics, interoperability and more.
As retailers continue to innovate aggressively with AI, finding ways to positively affect customer experience, it makes one wonder if these top companies have already cornered the market for AI in retail. Will there still be room for small innovators to stake a claim, and if there isn't, how will we know if we're truly getting all that the industry has to offer as we look to take full advantage of AI?