Legal and Regulatory

3D printing falls out of top 20 fastest growing technologies of 2021 according to patent data

The latest annual report from IFI CLAIMS Patent Services has revealed that 3D printing has dropped out of the top 20 fastest growing technologies of 2021, based on US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) data.

The report compiles the enterprises, technologies, and countries that have received the most patents over the past year using the firm’s proprietary data platform. Just last year, 3D printing was identified as ninth on IFI CLAIMS’ list.

In fact, 2021 saw the “most precipitous drop” in total US patent grants in the past decade, declining seven percent from 2020. Grants went from 352,000 in 2020 to 327,329 during the past year, while published patent applications also saw a slight downtick of around one percent to 410,093. 

“Last year saw the steepest decline in patent grants in the past decade,” said Mike Baycroft, CEO of IFI CLAIMS Patent Services.

“There could be many reasons for this – and clearly some are pandemic-related – but what we’re seeing is that corporations are still innovating at an impressive clip despite a challenging environment, particularly U.S. and Asia-based entities.”

3D printing’s patent slump

According to IFI CLAIMS, patent activity can provide a valuable financial indicator for researchers, analysts, and investors who seek insight into companies’ R&D productivity and clues to IP strategy, as well as technology trends and the competitive landscape within various industries.

Prior to taking ninth place last year, 3D printing was named as the second fastest growing technology in the 2017 edition of the report, after patent applications in the B33Y 40 (Additive Manufacturing; Auxiliary Operations or Equipment) patent classification saw a 35 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2013 and 2017. 

By contrast, IFI CLAIMS’ latest report reveals 3D printing patents with the CPC code B33Y 40 had a CAGR of just 19.6 percent for 2021, a figure that lost the technology its top 20 ranking. 

The technologies that did make it into the top 20 include computer systems based on biological models, an area of significant focus for Big Tech stalwarts such as IBM, Google, Samsung, Microsoft and Intel, and which saw a 54 percent CAGR increase from 2017-2021. Other fast-growing technologies in terms of patent data in 2021 included flowering plants, electrical smoking devices, quantum computing, machine learning and computer-aided design (CAD). 

CompanyNo. of applications
Hewlett Packard Development214
General Electric30
Seiko Epson Corp28
Desktop Metal23
Hamilton Sundstrand Corp18
Concept Laser10
Continuous Composites10
3M Innovative Properties8
Arcam AB8
Impossible Objects8
Seurat Technologies8
C Tec Constellium Technology Center SAS7
Divergent Technologies7
Lawrence Livermore National Security 7

Data via IFI CLAIMS Patent Services.

HP remains top of the patent charts

IFI CLAIMS’ report also revealed that while US-based companies still stood head-and-shoulders above their international peers in terms of patent grants in 2021, China-based firms stood out with 10 percent more patents granted than the prior year.

US-based firms accounted for more than half of all patents granted by USPTO in 2021, totalling 150,801. Taking second place was Japanese with 47,105, followed by South Korean (21,264), Chinese (20,679), and German (14,663) companies, who made up the top five.

The enterprises with the greatest number of 3D printing 2021 published patent applications are listed as follows:

Hewlett Packard Development (HP) – 214

General Electric (GE) – 30

Seiko Epson – 28

Desktop Metal – 23

Carbon – 20

Both HP and GE have maintained their rankings from last year, although both firms filed considerably fewer patent applications in 2021 compared to 2020. HP’s patent applications have more than halved from 470, while GE’s 2021 applications number just 10 percent of the 331 it filed last year. 

The other three names in the top five have replaced Kinpo Electronics, XYZprinting and Boeing, of whom only Boeing remains in the top 20 in 7th place. Notably, as Kinpo Electronics and XYZprinting are both subsidiaries of the Kinpo Group, 2020 saw the group file a total of 545 3D printing patents in 2020, which sees their omission from the top 20 this year as a particularly stark contrast. 

Perhaps the trend that stands out the most from this year’s patent application figures is the sheer lack of volume compared to 2020. Between them, the top five enterprises named on IFI CLAIMS’ 2020 list published a total of 1,541 3D printing patents applications. In what appears to be a huge slump, the top five patent applicants of 2021 published just 315 between them last year.

Some of the indications as to why last year saw a rather notable drop in 3D printing patent applications from companies may be found in the 3D printing trends recently discussed by more than 40 CEOs, leaders and experts in the additive manufacturing space. As for whether this trend looks set to continue, find out what they have to say on the future of 3D printing as they forecast the next decade.

More information about the 2021 Patent Trends and Insights from IFI CLAIMS Patent Services is available online.

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Featured image shows Patent Classification B33Y 40 3D Printing grew at a CAGR of 27.14 percent in 2020. Image via IFI CLAIMS.