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Record high in patents for remote learning technology as lockdown triggers another rise in ‘edtech’ innovation

Lockdown has triggered another rise in ‘edtech’ innovation, with a record high in global patents for remote learning technology being filed this year, shows new research from accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP.

BDO’s study of global patent applications filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) shows a record 2,175 patents for remote learning technology have been filed in the last 12 months (year-end April 30 2020).

The firm says that Covid lockdown has accelerated innovation in an area that has already seen considerable growth in recent years. Just five years ago in 2014/15, only 1,175 global patents for remote teaching were filed – see graph below.

Tony Spillett, Partner and National Head of Technology and Media at BDO, comments: “Edtech has been a very innovative subsector of tech for several years already, but Covid lockdown is set to supercharge it.”

“Remote learning has gone from being an area with exciting potential to one of critical importance for all parts of the education sector – from schools to vocational training – in just a few months.”


Past year sees record high in global patents filed for remote learning technology

More businesses move staff training online – driving remote learning innovation

BDO adds that the rise of remote learning innovation, particularly during the coronavirus lockdown, is not limited to traditional education providers like schools and universities. Several of the most frequent filers of patents in this area during the past year are businesses outside of the education sector, including US manufacturers ITW (9 patents) and Lincoln International (23 patents) – see table below.

ITW, a diversified manufacturing group that is part of the S&P 500, filed several patents for an ‘augmented reality’ system for welders, allowing them to train and be tested remotely without the need for actual welding equipment.

The biggest worldwide filer of patent applications for remote learning technology over the past year is IBM (63 patents filed). The US tech giant filed patents for technology including a real-time public speaking ‘coaching’ tool, which uses AI analysis to compare an individual’s speech to a ‘model’ and provides feedback automatically while they practice.

Says Tony Spillett: “The issues faced by schools and universities have been in the spotlight recently but social distancing and remote working have also had a significant impact on how businesses train staff. They have had to quickly pivot to remote and online training, even in cases where the work being done is very hands-on, like construction. That has been a big driver of new technology being developed in virtual and augmented reality.”

China and US neck-and-neck in ‘edtech’ innovation

BDO’s study shows that China (852 patents for remote learning technology) and the US (843 patents) are virtually neck-and-neck in edtech innovation in the past year. The two countries make up 78% of all remote learning patents filed with WIPO since May 2019.

 China’s biggest filers over the past year include the State Grid Corporation, the world’s largest utility business that operates the country’s power grid. Its patent filings in the past year have focused on virtual reality training equipment for its staff, including systems for remotely educating workers on maintaining transformer substations and climbing power line towers.

 Adds Tony Spillett: “In recent years, some businesses with large estates of assets spread over huge geographic areas have moved quickly to adopt new technologies into their operations. Utilities have been a great example of this. It can be expensive and dangerous to train staff to monitor and maintain their networks on site, so VR and AR technologies can provide a much more efficient and safe solution.”