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

Drone patents have soared across the world amid a “new arms race” as the technology is applied increasingly on the battlefield, experts have warned.

Data from the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) showed that patents filed for technology relating to drones surged by 16 per cent between 2022 and 2023. This represented 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, a former analyst at the US Department of Defense, told The Independent that the scramble for patents marks 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 – 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.

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

“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 originated from Chinese companies. In 2023, 87 per cent of all filings came from China.

Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, whose technology 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, a model that is often used on the battlefield (AFP via Getty)

Mr Plichta said the US military is now becoming more interested in drone technology – but that it is wary 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 (£800m) in the industry, with more than 10,000 drones said to be lost on the battlefield every month.

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