This data brief explores trends in Chinese robotics patenting as a measure of robotics advancement. Patents are a key indicator of innovation—and in the case of robotics, of development and technological growth. China has garnered global attention for its domestic push in science and technology fields via government investment and planning. Robotics, as a critical area of S&T, illustrates the potential impact of those policies, programs and funding.
China has seen prodigious growth in its robotics patents over the past decade. This growth corresponds with increases in Chinese robotics scholarly literature, the number of Chinese robotics companies, and the number of robots and robotics installations currently deployed in China. China’s significant growth is relevant from a policy perspective: the development of China’s robotics industry could give Chinese companies an advantage and produce significant market distortions. The rise of China’s robotics industry also potentially challenges the United States’ role as a technological leader and positions China to develop novel robotics technologies and buttress its military capacity.
China’s growth in robotics should be put in the context of its policy goals, including the Made in China 2025 plan, where China aims to garner a majority market share over its domestic robotics market to then become a world leader in robotics (among other fields, particularly in technology). Patenting activity, examined alongside other measures of innovation, provides an overall picture of the state of robotics development in China and suggests China may be on track to achieve these stated aims.
- The top patenters in robotics between 2010 and 2019 were the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and Germany. China became the world leader in robotics patenting in 2015 after years of dramatic growth. Chinese organizations comprise most of the top 100 robotics patent grantees globally.
- The top countries in robotics patenting are also leaders in output of robotics scholarly literature and robotics operational stock, meaning number of robots available to be deployed.
- Differences between country and regional patenting offices make direct comparisons difficult, but this analysis suggests that many of China’s patents may face lower thresholds for quality control than other top countries’ patents, tempering China’s lead in robotics patents.
- Despite being the top robotics patenter, China is not the world’s leader in production of robotics; Japan is. However, China is rapidly increasing its robotics production, number of robotics firms, and robotics purchasing.