The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by factors such as the growing demand for autonomous vehicles, the increasing complexity of autonomous vehicles, and the need for high-performance electronic control units (ECUs) to process large amounts of data. Apart from that, governments around the world are developing regulations to promote the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. Innovation in the industy is also driven by growing importance of technologies such as sensors, artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Artificial intelligence in automotive: autonomous vehicle ECUs. Buy the report here.

Smarter leaders trust GlobalData

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

300+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over one million patents, there are 300+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, autonomous on-demand logistics, end-to-end learning models, and adaptive driver alerting are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Vehicular vision, adaptive cruise control, and predictive acceleration control are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing.

Innovation S-curve for artificial intelligence in the automotive industry

Autonomous vehicle ECUs is a key innovation area in artificial intelligence

An autonomous vehicle electronic control unit is a complex system of electronic hardware and software that manages the vehicle's operations and communicates between various vehicle components, such as the sensors, actuators, and the rest of the vehicle software. It is responsible for processing data from various sensors and generating commands for the vehicle's actuators to control its movements.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 30+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of autonomous vehicle ECUs.

Key players in autonomous vehicle ECUs – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to autonomous vehicle ECUs

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Huawei Investment & Holding 36 Unlock Company Profile
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance 103 Unlock Company Profile
Qualcomm 33 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 174 Unlock Company Profile
Cox Enterprises 127 Unlock Company Profile
Baidu 299 Unlock Company Profile
Alphabet 441 Unlock Company Profile
Robert Bosch Stiftung 49 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 93 Unlock Company Profile
Aptiv 161 Unlock Company Profile
Nissan Motor 42 Unlock Company Profile
Hitachi 36 Unlock Company Profile
Renault 34 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 22 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Electric 30 Unlock Company Profile
Panasonic 40 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 43 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 114 Unlock Company Profile
Sony Group 27 Unlock Company Profile 32 Unlock Company Profile
LG 73 Unlock Company Profile
Denso 45 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 86 Unlock Company Profile
Intel 79 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 194 Unlock Company Profile
Polaris 33 Unlock Company Profile
Uber Technologies 55 Unlock Company Profile
Nio 31 Unlock Company Profile
Beijing TuSimple Future Technology 47 Unlock Company Profile
Stradvision 40 Unlock Company Profile
PlusAI 25 Unlock Company Profile
Uatc 73 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Alphabet is one of the leading patent filers in autonomous vehicle ECUs. Alphabet, the parent company of Google and Waymo, is at the forefront of developing autonomous vehicle ECUs. The company is focused on creating new ECU architectures that are more efficient and scalable than traditional ones, while also using new materials and manufacturing processes to develop more lightweight and durable ECUs. Some other key patent filers in the space include Baidu, Ford Motor, and Toyota Motor.

In terms of application diversity, Cox Enterprises leads the pack, while Intel and Nio stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Cox Enterprises held the top position, followed by Polaris and Alphabet.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the automotive industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Automotive.

Premium Insights


The gold standard of business intelligence.

Blending expert knowledge with cutting-edge technology, GlobalData’s unrivalled proprietary data will enable you to decode what’s happening in your market. You can make better informed decisions and gain a future-proof advantage over your competitors.


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.