The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by automation, environmental sustainability, and operational efficiency, and the growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), unmanned systems and satellites. In the last three years alone, there have been over 237,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defense industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Drones in defense: lighter-than-air dronesBuy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 206,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the aerospace and defense industry, there are 110 innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Lighter-than-air drones is a key innovation area in drones

Lighter-than-air drones are gaining prominence in aerospace and defense due to their distinctive attributes and multifaceted applications. Employing buoyancy from helium or other gases, these drones offer extended flight durations, making them ideal for persistent surveillance over vast areas. Their role extends to serving as communication relays, establishing temporary networks in areas with disrupted connectivity. In defense applications, they prove valuable for strategic reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, and maintaining a low radar cross-section for enhanced stealth. The loitering capability of these drones enables effective monitoring of specific areas, responding to emerging threats.

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 aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of lighter-than-air drones.

Key players in lighter-than-air drones – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defense 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 lighter-than-air drones

Company Total patents (2021 - 2023) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Otis Worldwide 3 Unlock Company Profile
AeroVironment 6 Unlock Company Profile
PowerLight Technologies 4 Unlock Company Profile
Motorola Solutions 2 Unlock Company Profile
Lockheed Martin 1 Unlock Company Profile
Microsoft 4 Unlock Company Profile
TCOM 3 Unlock Company Profile
IHI 4 Unlock Company Profile
Alphabet 4 Unlock Company Profile
Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule Zurich 3 Unlock Company Profile
Hexagon 3 Unlock Company Profile
BHP 5 Unlock Company Profile
LG Display 5 Unlock Company Profile
Panasonic 36 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 3 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 1 Unlock Company Profile
Sony Group 4 Unlock Company Profile 5 Unlock Company Profile
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone 6 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 3 Unlock Company Profile
LG 5 Unlock Company Profile
Walmart 20 Unlock Company Profile
SoftBank Group 5 Unlock Company Profile
NEC 4 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 1 Unlock Company Profile
TotalEnergies 1 Unlock Company Profile
SPACE DATA 2 Unlock Company Profile
SZ DJI Technology 12 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon 1 Unlock Company Profile
Sunlight Photonics 2 Unlock Company Profile
Solar Ship 2 Unlock Company Profile
X Development 2 Unlock Company Profile
Beijing Jingdong Technology 1 Unlock Company Profile
Nant 3 Unlock Company Profile
H2 Clipper 3 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

The leading company in terms of total patent filings within the lighter-than-air drones segment is AeroVironment. The patents filed by the company include drone that uses a balloon structure to stay aloft, methods of safely terminating the flight of a lighter-than-air drone and recovering it, detecting when the drone is in danger and methods of safe termination and recovery.  

In terms of application diversity, Solar Ship, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin are some of the leading innovators. By means of geographic reach, some of the leading patent filers include TCOM , H2 Clipper, and Solar Ship.  

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defense industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Drones in Aerospace and Defense.

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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.