China overtakes Japan as world’s top humanoid robot patent applicant, study shows

Since 2014, the increase of patent applications from China notably picked up, with college researchers from Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University and Beijing Institute of Technology and companies like UBTech leading the pack.

China has surpassed Japan as the world’s top country in the number of patent applications and grants, according to a study by People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper.

The study, conducted by the research arm of the online edition of the paper and released on November 27, indicates that China’s patent applications for inventions in humanoid robotics overtook those of Japan for the first time in 2015.

That year, Chinese researchers and companies filed 261 such applications, compared to Japan’s 214, the study finds.

Entitled Analysis of Technological Patents of Humanoid Robotics, the study explains that China’s number of patent applications in humanoid robot, which totaled 721 then, ranked first in the world in 2016.

Although Japan caught up with and again overtook China in the years that ensued, China reclaimed the top spot in 2022 as the world’s No.1 applicant for humanoid robot patents, with 6,596 versus Japan’s 6,058.

The study’s authors point out that these applications mainly come from countries including China, Japan, South Korea, France and the United States.

China and Japan now stand as the top-placed countries in terms of their patent applications, both in excess of 6,000.

A timeline of development in the area of humanoid robotics suggests that Japanese companies like Honda and Sony represented the bulk of applications in the early days, with the rest coming from Toyota.

Together they had dominated the original research contribution from 2000 to 2008, until countries like China rose rapidly to close the gap.

Since 2014, the increase of patent applications from China notably picked up, with college researchers from Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University and Beijing Institute of Technology and companies like UBTech (优必选) leading the pack.

In recent years, global titans like Tesla, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung joined the humanoid robot race, turning up the heat on legacy players like Honda, which launched Asimo in 2000, and Boston Dynamics, the builder of the acrobatic Atlas.

Frost & Sullivan predicts that in 2026 the world humanoid robot market will hit US$8 billion.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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