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Drone patents jump 34% as businesses worldwide adopt drone technology

17 June 2019


  • Amazon and Walmart among leading filers of drone patents
  • UK lags behind global tech rivals in tenth place

The number of patents filed globally for drone technology at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has increased by 34% to 9,485 in the last year* alone, up from 7,076 the year before, shows new research from the accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO LLP.

BDO says that the surge in the number of drone patents being filed reflects the growing competition between drone developers to expand their technology into new commercial uses.

Filing patents allows developers to protect their intellectual property from being replicated and gives them the ability to sell or license their technology to other users.

Whilst the majority of these patents are being filed in China, the most frequent filers include Walmart and Amazon. Both hope to use drone technology to cut costs and improve efficiency in deliveries and their own internal logistics. Walmart (56) and Amazon (54) have become serial filers of drone patents and are among the top ten filers in the last year.

Amazon announced in June 2019 that it would start delivering packages via drones to customers “within months” – its drones are able to deliver to customers within a 15-mile range within 30 minutes.

Tony Spillett, Partner at BDO, comments: “The number of commercial applications of drones have evolved dramatically just in the last three years, resulting in a boom in the number of patents.

“Both drone companies and corporates are rapidly exploring how they can use drones to deal with labour intensive or hazardous tasks.

“Like GPS, drones are being seen as a breakthrough technology that is spurring innovation in a wide range of sectors from agriculture to oil & gas production. Defence companies are looking at the use of microdrones and drone swarms, and other developers are looking at more prosaic tasks like delivering cups of coffee.”

Chinese businesses lead the way in drone patent filings

Chinese businesses filed the most patents last year (6,002) – far ahead of the US with 2,045. The UK filed just 38 and came tenth in the global rankings (see table below).

Examples of drone-related patents filed in the last year include:

  • A patent filed by Electro-Motive Diesel, a US manufacturer of diesel-electric locomotives, for a drone that can be deployed from a moving train to inspect the functionality of its components
  • A drone system to facilitate the delivery of retail products to a customer’s address, filed by US retailer Walmart
  • A patent filed by the State Grid Corporation of China for a drone that assists with power grid planning by taking aerial photos.

Tony Spillett continues: “With two thirds of drone patents being filed by Chinese companies, it’s clear just how much investment China is making in tech R&D.

“From a UK perspective, while an onlooker could understand the UK being ranked below tech giants like China and the US, they might be disappointed it is lagging behind closer tech rivals like Canada and France.”

Spillett says the Government should do more to encourage development and investment in technology by UK businesses.

“One area that could be reviewed is the Patent Box Scheme, which offers a lower tax regime on profits derived from patents but provides little benefit to many high growth businesses.

“Some would argue the current corporate tax regime is still geared too much towards incentivising business investment in premises and machinery, and doesn’t sufficiently prioritise technological innovation.

“Once Brexit is out of the way, establishing greater incentives to all businesses engaged in cutting edge development must be a priority for the Government.”


*Year to June 30, 2018.

Source: World Intellectual Property Organisation

The number of drone patents filed in the last five years


Number of Drone Patents Filed












Top 10 countries ranked by number of drone patents last year (2017/18)



Number of Drone Patents Filed





United States



Republic of Korea


















Russian Federation






Note to editors

Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP provides integrated advice and solutions to help businesses navigate a changing world.

Our clients are Britain’s economic engine – ambitious, entrepreneurially-spirited and high-growth businesses that fuel the economy. 

We share our clients’ ambitions and their entrepreneurial mind-set. We have the right combination of global reach, integrity and expertise to help them succeed. 


BDO LLP operates in 17 locations across the UK, employing nearly 5,000 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP has underlying revenues of £590m and is the UK member firm of the BDO international network.

BDO’s global network

The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 162 countries, with 80,000 people working out of 1,600 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $9bn. 


Richard Crossan

Mattison Public Relations

on behalf of BDO LLP

[email protected]

020 7645 3636

BDO press office:

020 7893 3000

[email protected]