Patent applications related to smart apparel, which integrates clothing and electronic communication technology, is surging amid a rapid growth in the market for such clothing.
According to the Office of Patent Administration, patent applications for smart clothing surged in recent three years with the rapid development of sensors and communication technologies. They were six cases in 2014 but shot to 40 cases last year.
The global market for smart apparel is expected to grow 76.6 percent a year between 2016 and 2021.
Patents for smart clothing can be classified into four sections: conductive textile materials, phase change/discolor textile materials, digital
Patent applications increased sharply in the infotainment sector, which combines information delivery and entertainment, and the medical sector.
The growth in the infotainment sector is explained by the easiness in integrating an electronic circuit in clothing, while the increase in the medical clothing sector is attributed to the expectation that investment return would be higher in this sector than others.
An analysis of the patent application trend during the recent 10 years shows that the infotainment sector tops with 35 applications (24%), followed by the medical sector with 28 (19%) and the protection and sports sectors each with 25 (17%), respectively .
Of all 146 applications, companies accounted for 51 (35%), followed by individuals at 41 (28%) and colleges at 37 (25%). Over the past three years, 37 applications were filed by companies, accounting for more than 40% of the total 92 applications, which indicates a surge in industry interest and active corporate research activities. Koreans accounted for 139 cases (95.2%).
The global market for smart apparel is still at its initial stage. Yet the market is expected to expand rapidly through convergence with some of the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. Experts advise Korean companies to secure more intellectual property rights in this field by expanding investment in technology development.