Patent filings fall into three main categories: materials, applications and processes. Of these three, materials-related patents were the most common. Many of these cover incremental improvements of existing materials—rather than new materials—and focus on enhancing performance characteristics such as flexibility, durability, electroluminescence and chemical resistance. Meanwhile, there was a relatively low number of process patents. This may be in part due to a desire not to publicize process innovations, but it also suggests that the industry may not be investing enough in the core processes that will be required to reduce carbon footprints and meet the growing demand for more sustainable products.
Chemical-related startups, which have seen dramatic growth in funding, are addressing many of the industry’s important growth areas, including building materials, waste management, additive manufacturing and machine learning (ML), which together represent about 30% of the total startup investment in recent years. Nearly 20% of investments have been focused on digital solutions such as AI/ML for molecule discovery and quantum computing for simulations, or activities in the fields of e-commerce and business-to-business interactions. Startups exploring materials that support CO2 reductions and the circular economy account for 10% of investment share.
Figure 1: Significant growth in independent chemical-related startups