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Fraunhofer IAO patent analysis finds China leading in Industry 4.0

Part of Fraunhofer IAO’s China TechWatch research project involves analyzing developments in Chinese technology. The project’s first white paper reveals that China is way out in front when it comes to patent applications for the basic technologies needed for Industry 4.0. Purely in terms of the number of patents filed, China has now far outstripped the United States and Germany. Since 2013, Chinese inventors have filed more than 2,500 patents in this field, putting China way ahead of the United States (1,065 patents) and Germany (441), with China’s efforts accelerating.

Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0, says consultancy Roland Berger, emphasizes the idea of consistent digitization and linking of all productive units in an economy. While IT systems today are already at the heart of the production system, in Industry 4.0, those systems will be far more connected to all sub-systems, processes, internal and external objects, the supplier and customer networks.
IT systems will be built around machines, storage systems and supplies that adhere to a defined standard and are linked up as cyber-physical systems (CPS) that can be controlled in real time.
The first industrial revolution improved efficiency through the use of hydropower, steam power and the development of machine tools. The second brought electricity and mass production. The third accelerated automation using electronics and IT.
The fourth is integrating physical objects with the network. Key characteristics will be: cyber-physical systems; smart robots and machines; big data; much higher quality of connectivity; energy efficiency and decentralization; and virtual industrialization.

In terms of granted patents, the US is in the lead with 1,467, followed by China (515) and Germany (477).

In March of this year, the Chinese government announced a new strategic program: “Made in China 2025.” The national action plan is aimed specifically at promoting industry 4.0 technologies. China has been working hard on the technologies that underpin the fourth industrial revolution for years now.

The number of patents China has filed alone doesn’t reveal much about the country’s real innovative power. Experts estimate that only around 35% will actually meet the criteria for patentability. The challenge facing Western companies is to identify high-quality inventions without spending undue time and money, Fraunhofer suggests.

A detailed analysis of Chinese patents serves two purposes. First, it allows us to develop suitable competitive strategies and even workaround solutions should we need them. Second, patent documents contain important information about the future technology requirements of Chinese companies, which we should factor into our sales strategies.

—Truong Le, a patent and innovation expert at Fraunhofer IAO

As part of its China TechWatch research project, the institute has developed new, partly automated methods of analyzing the quality of Chinese patents and the technology competence of Chinese players.

Fraunhofer IAO will use these methods to compile a four-part study entitled “Industry 4.0 – current developments in China,” to be released over the next twelve months. The first part is devoted to patent analysis and shows in detail how China is not only ahead in terms of the number of patents, but has also developed highly innovative inventions.

This is especially the case when it comes to energy-efficient wireless sensor networks and network structures—areas in which Chinese research institutions are making remarkable progress, according to Fraunhofer. Part one of the study can be downloaded as a white paper free of charge.

In parallel to this study, Fraunhofer IAO will be publishing a digital technology study entitled “Chinese Industry 4.0 Patents” in twice-yearly installments starting in June 2015. This study will evaluate some 1,000 Chinese patents and examine the quality of the technology in the 50 most important Chinese patent publications for a six-month period, with the information translated and summarized in easy-to-follow profiles.


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