The retail industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by rise in e-commerce, supply chain management and risk mitigation, and growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual reality and augmented reality. In the last three years alone, there have been over 156,000 patents filed and granted in the retail industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Internet of Things in retail: robotic warehouse management. Buy the report here.

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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.

50+ innovations will shape the retail industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the retail industry using innovation intensity models built on over 115,000 patents, there are 50+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, automated self-service kiosks and in-store theft monitoring are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Robotic warehouse management, autonomous delivery vehicle navigation systems, and interactive vending kiosks are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are NFC product tagging and smart PoS systems, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for Internet of Things in the retail industry

Robotic warehouse management is a key innovation area in Internet of Things

Robotic warehouse management involves using AI algorithms and robotics to automate and streamline the storage, retrieval, and transportation of goods within a warehouse. These technologies help to improve operational efficiencies, reduce errors, optimize throughput and result in lower costs incurred from warehouse operations.

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 40+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established retail companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of robotic warehouse management.

Key players in robotic warehouse management – a disruptive innovation in the retail 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 robotic warehouse management

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Nuro 131 Unlock Company Profile
Cox Enterprises 126 Unlock Company Profile
Walmart 116 Unlock Company Profile
FedEx 53 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 35 Unlock Company Profile
Locus Robotics 17 Unlock Company Profile
Zume 16 Unlock Company Profile
Ocado Group 16 Unlock Company Profile
Indigo Agriculture 15 Unlock Company Profile
Intel 10 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 9 Unlock Company Profile
LG 9 Unlock Company Profile
Qualcomm 9 Unlock Company Profile
FedEx Services 7 Unlock Company Profile
Alphabet 7 Unlock Company Profile
Denso 7 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 6 Unlock Company Profile
Panasonic 6 Unlock Company Profile
Ninebot Beijing Tech 6 Unlock Company Profile
Fujifilm 6 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 6 Unlock Company Profile
ABB 5 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 5 Unlock Company Profile
DOT 4 Unlock Company Profile
X Development 4 Unlock Company Profile
Farfetch 4 Unlock Company Profile
Hancom 4 Unlock Company Profile
OPTIMUM 3 Unlock Company Profile
Diebold Nixdorf 3 Unlock Company Profile
Lyft 3 Unlock Company Profile
Infobank 2 Unlock Company Profile
Global Mobility Service 2 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 1 Unlock Company Profile
SITA 1 Unlock Company Profile
Saenu 1 Unlock Company Profile 1 Unlock Company Profile
AT&T 1 Unlock Company Profile
Wells Fargo 1 Unlock Company Profile
Zume Pizza 1 Unlock Company Profile
INRIX 1 Unlock Company Profile
Sycamore Partners 1 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Boshoku 1 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leading patent filers in this space include Cox Enterprises, Nuro, Walmart, FedEx and Toyota Motor. Walmart claims to actively modernize its supply chain operations by investing in robotics and automation for warehouse management, aiming to enhance customer experiences. In 2022, Walmart expanded its technology partnership with Wilmington to introduce a range of warehouse automation systems, including robotic warehouse management, across the retailer's regional distribution facilities. FedEx, on the other hand, uses its in-house innovation, SenseAware®, an IoT technology for real-time visibility across shipments of temperature-sensitive products which require monitoring details such as location, exposure levels to light and humidity to ensure quality of product, thus benefitting the manufacturers, retailer and customer.

In terms of application diversity, Cox Enterprises, OPTIMUM, and INRIX are the leading companies.

By geographic reach, Nuro leads the pack, followed by FedEx and Cox Enterprises, respectively.

Robotic warehouse management boosts efficiency, precision, and swiftness in order fulfillment, empowering retailers to satisfy customer demands, while staying competitive on pricing. It leads to significant cost reductions and error mitigation, resulting in a seamless and cost-efficient supply chain.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the retail industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Internet of Things (IoT) in Retail and Apparel.

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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.