Powering Up: Japan and South Korea Energize Battery Innovation

By Chris Chiavatti, Liz Gray, and Dennis Hazsko

The ongoing shift towards cleaner energy sources, and electric cars in particular, is driving the quest for better storage of electricity. Innovators around the world are seeking to make batteries that are more powerful, longer-lasting, lighter, and cheaper than ever before. A new report in IAM delves into the patents behind this trend.

Two jurisdictions stand out as leaders in battery innovation: Japan and South Korea. Of the fifteen companies with the largest patent portfolios, five are based in Japan and four are based in South Korea. Further, two companies from Japan and two from South Korea each rank among the top five companies. Battery technology also constitutes a higher share of total patents granted in Japan and South Korea than in other countries.

In terms of the number of active patents, however, China continues to be an important jurisdiction, with more active patents for battery technologies than the US, Japan, South Korea, and Germany combined. This includes patents granted to foreign companies, including the Japanese and Korean battery innovators. Foreign companies frequently invest in patent protection in China because of China’s high demand for batteries, control of the battery manufacturing supply chain, and investment in electric-vehicle infrastructure.

The report also shows signs of a trend towards new battery technologies, such as solid-state batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are still the subject of the largest number of new battery patents. However, globally, the number of patent filings for lithium-ion batteries grew by only 17% annually between 2015 and 2019, whereas the number of solid-state battery patent filings grew by 30% annually over the same period. A more advanced form of lithium-ion batteries, known as lithium-sulphur batteries, are also a growing subject-matter of battery-technology patents. This portends a potentially significant change towards newer technologies.

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