The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the need to lower operational costs, larger consumer trends, and electrification, and growing importance of technologies such as hydrogen and electric aircraft and advanced materials. 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 Innovation in defense: aircraft fuel cell APUsBuy 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. 

110 innovations will shape the aerospace and defense industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the aerospace and defense industry using innovation intensity models built on over 206,000 patents, there are 110 innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, aircraft fuel cell APUs, self-calibrating scanners, and vibration suppression devices are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Aircraft ultrasonic inspection, aircraft power distribution network, and contour scanning interferometry are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are precision-guided firearms and aircraft power management, which are now well established in the industry.  

Innovation S-curve for the aerospace and defense industry

Aircraft fuel cell APUs is a key innovation area in aerospace and defense 

Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) are systems which allow support systems on aircraft, such as air conditioning, communications, and other electronic systems to function. They are power systems, which are separate from the means of propulsion. 

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 60+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of aircraft fuel cell APUs. 

Key players in aircraft fuel cell APUs – 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 aircraft fuel cell APUs

Company Total patents (2021 - 2023) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Liebherr-International 31 Unlock Company Profile
Rolls-Royce 19 Unlock Company Profile
AeroVironment 11 Unlock Company Profile
Diehl Stiftung 52 Unlock Company Profile
Melrose Industries 23 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 27 Unlock Company Profile
TCOM 2 Unlock Company Profile
NACCO Materials Handling Group 8 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler 2 Unlock Company Profile
Siemens 12 Unlock Company Profile
E.ON 4 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 10 Unlock Company Profile
Parker Hannifin 3 Unlock Company Profile
Snecma 17 Unlock Company Profile
General Electric 67 Unlock Company Profile
BAE Systems 27 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 5 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 45 Unlock Company Profile
Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault 11 Unlock Company Profile
Doosan 31 Unlock Company Profile
Aviva 6 Unlock Company Profile
Textron 17 Unlock Company Profile
Safran 166 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 45 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 475 Unlock Company Profile
Honeywell International 6 Unlock Company Profile
Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt 8 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 5 Unlock Company Profile
Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen 4 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus Defence and Space 3 Unlock Company Profile
Zodiac Seats France 9 Unlock Company Profile
Intertechnique 4 Unlock Company Profile
EADS Deutschland 15 Unlock Company Profile
Meditor European Master Fund 27 Unlock Company Profile
ArianeGroup 12 Unlock Company Profile
Alakai Technologies 37 Unlock Company Profile
H3 Dynamics 10 Unlock Company Profile
Aurora Innovation 8 Unlock Company Profile
Linde 8 Unlock Company Profile
BayoTech 6 Unlock Company Profile
S-Fuelcell 2 Unlock Company Profile
Volans-I 2 Unlock Company Profile
ZeroAvia 19 Unlock Company Profile
Foshan Shenfeng Aviation Technology 1 Unlock Company Profile
Spawnt 6 Unlock Company Profile
Bio Cellular Design Aeronautics Africa 2 Unlock Company Profile
Nanotek Instruments Group 2 Unlock Company Profile
Huaneng Group Technology Innovation Center 1 Unlock Company Profile
Universal Hydrogen 19 Unlock Company Profile
UAV Factory 5 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Among aerospace and defense companies, Airbus is the leading patent filer in aircraft fuel cells APUs. The company is heavily invested in zero-emissions aircraft development through its ZEROe program, which is targeting a 2035 rollout for commercial aircraft that utilize hydrogen propulsion. Fuel cells are an essential component of hydrogen propulsion, and fuel cell APUs are integral to fuel cells for aircraft propulsion. Other key patent filers include Safran and General Electric. 

In terms of application diversity, BayoTech leads the pack. Bio Cellular Design Aeronautics and Foshan Shenfeng Aviation stand in second and third spots, respectively. By geographic reach, Linde holds the top position, followed by NACCO Materials Handling and Universal Hydrogen. 

Fuel cell-based propulsion is a promising technological avenue to reduce the emissions produced by commercial aircraft, and therefore improve the sustainability performance of the industry. In light of this, fuel cell components such as fuel cells APUs are essential developments. 

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