Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Saturday, March 24, 2018
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Amazon’s Diversified Patent Portfolio Expanding 

Amazon has long eschewed profits, preferring instead to plow capital expenditures into product innovation in sectors ranging from online retail to cloud computing. That aggressive strategy has made it a dominant online retailer and, according to at least one estimate, the largest public cloud provider, bigger than its next five largest competitors combined.

The Seattle-based behemoth’s impressive growth is also reflected in the number and assortment of technology patents it has accumulated as well as its unmatched level of investment. A new examination of Amazon’s intellectual property holdings by Coresight Research reveals a diverse list of technology patents in key areas ranging from AI and machine learning to robotics and drones.

Further, the study finds that Amazon emerged last year as the global leader in R&D investment totaling $16.1 billion (see chart). Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), the parent company of Google was second with $13.9 billion, followed by Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) and Samsung (KRX: 005930) (both $12.7 billion).

Though Amazon landed in the middle of the pack in terms of total number of U.S. patents granted in 2017, well back of perennial leader IBM (NYSE: IBM), the market researcher noted Amazon Technologies Inc. is the only retailer among the list of 20 top patent assignees, mostly technology or manufacturing companies.

Indeed, patent tracker IFI Claims Patent Services noted as far back as 2016 that Amazon was among the fastest growing holders of technology patents.

“While Amazon is primarily positioned as an e-commerce firm, its patents and R&D spending distinguish it as more a technology firm than retailer,” Coresight Research noted in a report released Thursday (Feb. 22).

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has amassed 7,096 U.S. patents as of Jan. 23, 2018, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Coresight said that total includes only patents granted to Amazon Technologies Inc., and Inc. “If we were to include patents issued to Amazon’s subsidiaries and recently acquired firms, the numbers would be higher,” the patent report notes.

In addition to patents granted, Amazon Technologies filed and published 870 patent applications in the U.S. as of last month, while filed 16 patent applications.

Among its cloud competitors, Amazon trails only IBM, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Google and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL)

in terms of the number of patents. Its diversified portfolio includes a growing number of patents related to cloud computing, AI and machine learning as well as robotics and drones, the study noted.

“Given the scale, depth and diversity of its innovative businesses, Amazon appears to be operating as a kind of hybrid e-commerce and technology firm,” the market tracker concluded.

IFI Claims reported last month that Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) climbed into the firm’s list of the top 50 patent assignees for the first time on the strength of machine learning and AI-related patents.

IBM was the leading publisher of machine learning patent applications last year with 654, the patent tracker said.

Among retailers, Amazon is by far the largest holder of U.S. patents with 7,096 as of January 2018. eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY)

was a distant second with 1,438 followed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), Coresight reported.

Among Amazon recent patent awards are a scheme for an “airborne fulfillment center,” a 3-D manufacturing-on-demand architecture and a detection technology for controlling consumer devices with hand signals.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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