The Rush for Patents in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Exploration of Patenting Activity at the European Patent Office
24 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 2019
Objectives.The main objective of the present study is to provide a comprehensive coverage of the patenting activity at the European Patent Office by companies in the remit of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). We also aim at moving forward the understanding of the firm-level patenting activity of 4IR technologies.
Methodology. We do so by conducting an empirical assessment of the development of technologies related to the 4IR via the analysis of patents filed at the European Patent Office between 1985 and 2014. We employ a new matched patent-firm data set provided by the Bureau Van Dijk: ORBIS-IP.
Findings. In line with results from the recent literature, we find evidence of a surge in patenting activity related to the 4IR in the past three decades, particularly in networked devices. Our results also suggest that firms filing 4IR patents have become progressively younger on average. At the same time, we find a steady growth in the average number of 4IR patent applications filed yearly by each company.
Research limits. Our exploration is a first step towards a better comprehension of the 4IR patent arena. Being mainly a “thick” description, we did not analyze antecedents and effects of 4IR patent applications. A comparative and longitudinal analysis of patent applications and patents granted would be a first step in this direction. As a second step, quantitative and qualitative studies on how 4IR patents contribute to firms’ exploration and exploitation capabilities as well as to firm performance would be highly beneficial.
Practical implications. Further variance decompositions show that the surge in 4IR patent applications is mainly explained by incumbent firms filing more 4IR patent applications over time, rather than new entrants progressively populating the 4IR world. Finally, we uncover a general trend emerging at the firm level, whereby firms tend to specialize in few technological areas and avoid differentiation.
Originality of the study. Despite a surging interest related to the 4IR from different stakeholders (mainly practitioners and policy makers), comparatively less attention has come from academia, which has focused on the single technologies comprising the 4IR such as artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing and the internet of things. Although there is a solid body of scholarship in the area of engineering and information systems that has focused on the topic (see surveys from Lu, 2017 and Liao, 2017), comparatively less studies are available within the management and economics fields. We aim at fill this gap by providing a detailed empirical assessment of the 4IR as a whole. We do so by analyzing patenting activity at the EPO in all the possible technological fields comprising the 4IR. We also attempt a first focus of patenting activity in the 4IR at the firm-level by characterizing companies along several dimensions.
Keywords: Fourth Industrial Revolution; Industry 4.0; matched patent-firm data; patent applications; EPO
JEL Classification: O30; O33; O34
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