The advent of AI starts a new chapter of human civilization. Gradually AI has become a new arena where businesses compete for dominance. Characterized by sophistication, convenience, intelligence, eff iciency, and technology, the modern and promising AI industry is changing people's lives.
After a remarkable 4-1 victory in 2016 when AlphaGo, a computer Go program, defeated the 9-dan professional and world champion Lee Sedol, AI startups have sprung up around the world. Backed by its team of top scientists and strong technological strength, SenseTime has survived the cut-throat competition in the AI industry and turned into a leading intelligent software vendor in Asia within less than a decade.
One of the core technologies of AI, machine vision provides tremendous technological support for the implementation of China's smart manufacturing strategy. SenseTime's founding team has specialized in computer vision for over 20 years. Their continuing input in this field has translated into an extensive portfolio of original technologies and enabled the company to grab the opportunities for fundraising amid the wave of AI commercialization in China. On December 30, 2021, SenseTime was successfully listed on Hong Kong Stock Exchange and became the first AI company to go public in China. This demonstrates investors' confidence in and expectations of the value of hard & core technology.
According to SenseTime's 2021 annual report, its four business domains, namely Smart Business, Smart City, Smart Life, and Smart Auto, all achieved revenue growth over the past year. Autonomous driving technology has been a long-term focus of SenseTime's research effort to reach the technology frontier in the driverless era. In 2021, SenseTime launched SenseAuto—an intelligent automotive application platform—to commercialize its full line of products, including smart pilot system, smart cabin system, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) system, L4 autonomous driving system, and autonomous minibus system. SenseTime will leverage the SenseAuto platform to harness the power of AI to meet the demands of people and industries by providing convenient solutions for urban traffic management, logistics and transport, and traveling.
Recently, IP PEOPLE had an in-depth conversation on AI with Wang Xiaogang, Cofounder and Chief Scientist at SenseTime, and President of SenseAuto Business Unit. During the interview, Dr. Wang shared the latest R&D outcomes and future direction of SenseTime, and the AI development in China.
IP PEOPLE: SenseTime has become an industry-leading AI software provider, and the four core business domains—Smart Business, Smart City, Smart Life, and Smart Auto—are all among the best in the industry. What is the main reason behind SenseTime's rapid and high-quality development?
Wang Xiaogang: Thanks to China's big efforts to stimulate technological innovation and develop digital infrastructure, AI technology is integrating with the real economy at an increasingly fast pace. This has provided AI companies, including us, with enormous opportunities and scenarios for technology application. We formed teams essential to our business when we founded SenseTime and have gradually improved the talent cultivation system. Our founding team has been focusing on computer vision for more than 20 years so far. In the past four years, we invested RMB 8 billion in R&D. The ongoing input allows us to accumulate original technological capabilities, and better forecast and grab the market opportunity.
IP PEOPLE: "To create a better AI-empowered future through innovation" has been SenseTime's mission. What does "innovation" mean to SenseTime?
Wang Xiaogang: We decided to pursue innovation to push the boundaries of the industry in the early days of our company. AI has scaled up efficiency in many industries and is evolving at a very fast speed. We would gain a competitive edge over others if we innovate faster than they copy us, and innovation is achieved with talent, tools, and coverage of user scenarios. If we can accomplish that, we would be able to utilize the time that our rivals need to catch up with us to plan for our business. Innovation brings incremental value. Our achievement has validated our choice of technology innovation.
IP PEOPLE: SenseTime's investment in R&D has increased year by year. What has SenseTime done to protect the hard-won technological innovations?
Wang Xiaogang: As an AI company, we p rot e c t our innovations through different intellectual property (IP) rights, such as patent, software copyright, trademark, trade name, and know-how. We believe in the power of IPR to maintain market order and crack down on malicious infringement. With increasing investment in R&D and IP year by year, the number of our annual patent applications and that of patent licenses we grant have increased by more than 100% for five consecutive years, which offered effective protection of our innovations in overseas markets.
To create an atmosphere that encourages and protects innovation, we give rewards worth over RMB 10 million each year to inventors or designers of innovations. In addition, we have established a reporting system to collect infringement evidence and ensure the effectiveness of our IP protection.
IP PEOPLE: As of the end of 2021, SenseTime had 11,494 global patents, a 96% increase compared to 2020. What triggered such a significant increase in patents?
Wang Xiaogang: It is a result of SenseTime's tremendous effort in technological R&D and IP protection. In 2021, we ramped up investments in R&D and expanded our R&D team, yielding more innovations and intellectual properties. With further improvement of the IP protection system and innovation incentive mechanism, our IP team dug deeper into our innovations and made effective plans for their development. As a result, the innovation efficiency has significantly improved. In 2021, we made great breakthroughs in overseas market expansion and substantially increased investment in patent portfolio planning overseas, which also contributed to the surge in the number of patents.
The number looks good, but it is never our goal. In fact, we attach more importance to the quality and effective protection of IP than quantity. We are committed to building a highquality patent portfolio by rigorously evaluating and screening the innovations to make them more patentable and make it easier to detect infringements, and by strengthening the organization and value assessment of granted patents.
IP PEOPLE: With 78% of the patents being inventions, what role has this played in SenseTime's business development?
Wang Xiaogang: Primarily, a high proportion of SenseTime's products and services are software and algorithms, which render them to be patented as inventions. A few years ago, the percentage of invention patents was even higher, hitting nearly 90%.
However, this is not what we are after. We aim at using IP as an effective business weapon through reasonable planning for the company's patent portfolio. Continuing to expand our product range and explore IP protection practices, we will make strategic planning for the utility model and design patent portfolios when necessary, in order to ensure adequate protection of various types of products. It is easy to identify infringing utility model and design patents, and we will make full use of this to defend our IP. This demonstrates the maturity of our product series and IP protection policy.
IP PEOPLE: You have been leading SenseTime's AI development. What challenges have you encountered during the transformation of innovations into practical applications? Could you share your experience?
Wang Xiaogang: The development of AI, from original research to product creation, depends heavily on industry-university-research cooperation. Highly aware of the fact that "the sustainable development of AI would be impossible without the continuous research on cutting-edge technology", SenseTime has formed partnerships with more than 50 universities and established 15 joint laboratories for industryuniversity-research collaboration. By associating the research topics in laboratories with practical problems in industrial applications, we have built a bridge between technological innovation and industrial application, and enabled talent training that combines academic research and applied research.
Based on our original technologies and insight into the market, we have created a unique model, namely "1 (basic research) + 1 (products and solutions) + X (industry)". Specifically, we keep bringing research breakthroughs to industries in need, and industries' growing demands for more advanced technology will prompt researchers to keep expanding the frontier of knowledge. As a result, a virtuous circle is formed to inject vitality into the intelligent transformation of industries.
Source: IPR Daily-IP PEOPLE
Editor: IPR Daily-Selly