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Russia files hundreds of drone patents as ‘global arms race’ ramps up



Drone patents have soared across the world amid a “new arms race” for the technology’s use on the battlefield, experts have warned.

Data from the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) showed patents filed for technology related to drones surged by 16 per cent between 2022 and 2023.

This was an increase from 16,800 in 2022 to 19,700 in 2023 – with China, Russia and the US among the top five countries developing the technology.

Marcel Plichta, former analyst at the US Department of Defense, told The Independent the scramble for patents marked a new global arms race for a new kind of warfare.

He said: “This is part of a new global arms race. It’s different to a more traditional arms race of tanks and rifles and is spurred on much more by the tech sector.

A demonstration flight of a Russian military drone being tested in Moscow (Reuters)

“Especially in Ukraine and Russia, where this sort of technology is being developed to get around attrition warfare, where it is difficult to make any real sort of progress.

“It’s not necessarily a technological revolution – it’s just a case of applying drone technology to warfare for advantages on the battlefield.”

Russia filed 342 patents between 2022 and 2024. Ukraine only filed 4 patents over the same period, according to the WIPO.

Up to 82 per cent of all global drone patents filed since 2015 originate from Chinese companies. In 2023, 87 per cent of all filings came from China.

The technology made by Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, which is often used on the battlefield by Ukraine, was the most frequent filer of drone patents.

A Ukrainian serviceman works on a FPV drone in a workshop in Donetsk amid a ‘global arms race’ for the technology (Reuters)

One model, the DJI Mavic, can be bought for as little as £100 on the internet. Although the sale of DJI models was suspended in Ukraine and Russia when the conflict began, they can still be bought abroad.

Mr Plichta said smaller “quadcopter” drones like this are easily equipped with a camera and grenade to deliver a payload, making them ideal for use on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, the US is behind China as the second largest filer of the technology – submitting 858 patents in 2023 and 5,631 since 2015.

Andrew White of intellectual property law firm Mathys & Squire said military applications now make up a significant proportion of research and development in drone technology.

“We’re seeing more investment in drone research from defence businesses as governments realise that they are in a literal arms race within this field,” he said.

A Ukrainian serviceman preparing a DJI Mavic 3 drone which are often used on the battlefield (AFP via Getty)

Mr Plichta said the US military was now becoming more interested in drone technology – but was weary of the market being oversaturated by Chinese companies.

“The drones made in the US are more expensive and available in smaller quantities than those in China, so there’s no real alternative to them right now.

“But it’s certainly possible we’ll see the US, Ukraine and European countries investing massively in them over the next five years.”

Kyiv has announced plans to invest $1bn into the industry with more than 10,000 drones said to be lost on the battlefield every month.

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