Patents related to artificial intelligence (AI) assistants grew by almost 70 percent in South Korea in 2016, the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) revealed on Sunday. While companies and individuals in the Far Eastern country applied for 36 patents related to virtual companions in 2015, the number of related applications grew to 61 last year, continuing the years-long industry trend. For added context, the KIPO received only 11 patent applications pertaining to virtual helpers in 2013, with many industry insiders claiming that the trend will continue in the coming years as AI companions become more accepted among consumers.
The South Korean agency confirmed as much, as one of its officials said that all consumer electronics are seemingly moving toward conversational interfaces and will continue doing so for the foreseeable future. The popularity of digital assistants in South Korea is also expected to increase by a significant margin over the course of this year, as the country's largest business conglomerate Samsung Electronics recently introduced its AI companion Bixby with the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus and advertised it as one of the main selling points of its latest flagship devices. Samsung's local rival LG Electronics didn't show any indication that it's interested in developing its own AI helper but still opted to ship the LG G6 with the Google Assistant.
Apart from smartphones, voice-enabled companions are also expected to benefit from the constantly increasing popularity of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in South Korea, many of which support such services. Samsung previously confirmed that while Bixby debuted with the Galaxy S8 series, the assistant will eventually make its way to its entire Internet-enabled product portfolio including TVs, air conditioners, and speakers. The company recently gave more credence to those claims by rolling out Bixby to its Family Hub 2.0 refrigerators. Global trends are already mimicking those in South Korea to a degree, with Google, Amazon, Microsft, and Apple continuing to invest an increasing amount of resources into advancing and promoting their AI ecosystems in an effort to secure their shares of this emerging market. Apart from Samsung, other Korean companies may innovate in the AI segment in the coming years seeing how KIPO revealed that almost three-quarters of 2016 patent applications related to digital assistants were submitted by domestic companies.