TOKYO/SHANGHAI — As businesses around the globe eye new uses for blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies, China is quickly outpacing the rest of the world in patent applications for related technology.
The U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Germany together received about 100 to 200 blockchain-related patent applications annually in the six years through 2014, according to Tokyo-based research firm Astamuse. Applications have skyrocketed in the last few years, largely thanks to China, with the cumulative tally reaching roughly 12,000 for 2009 through 2018.
Chinese players submitted roughly 7,600 applications in that period — about three times as many as Americans and accounting for over 60% of the five-country total. China overtook the U.S. in submissions in 2016.
South Koreans submitted around 1,150 applications over the same period, while Japanese applicants submitted about 380.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, with 512 applications, topped the ranking of corporate applicants compiled by Japan’s NGB based on data from Innography. It was followed by the U.K.-based nChain with 468 and IBM with 248.
Hailed as the biggest invention since the internet, blockchain — which allows data to be stored in a largely tamper-proof format — first emerged as the building block behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Companies have since been applying the technology to a variety of fields.
For example, Alibaba has actively drawn on blockchain technology to power its Alipay e-payment platform. It also uses blockchain to track products as they move from production lines to customer mailboxes, so it can block counterfeit goods, and for a money transfer service between Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Walmart is experimenting with using the technology to manage logistical data and improve food safety, while Honda Motor has partnered with BMW and others to develop a centralized system to oversee parking fees and highway tolls.
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