Cover: Use of Predictive Analytic Tools to Assess Technological Emergences and Acquisition Targets

Use of Predictive Analytic Tools to Assess Technological Emergences and Acquisition Targets

Published Jun 2, 2022

by Richard Silberglitt, Anna Jean Wirth, Christopher A. Eusebi, Inez Khan, Jasmin Léveillé, Steven W. Popper


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Research Questions

  1. Which countries have historically held and currently hold leadership positions in the technology areas of interest to the Department of the Air Force, as judged by the earliest filing of patents in emerging technology areas?
  2. Who are the earliest filers of patents in these technology areas?
  3. Which of these early filers are U.S. companies that possess leading technological capabilities that might make them attractive for foreign investment or acquisition?

The United States has been the international leader in science and technology of importance to national security for three-quarters of a century. However, the development by other nations of their own science and technology capabilities, in concert with and fueled by increasing globalization and connectivity of economic and technological development, has increased competition for technological leadership. The authors use patent filings to analyze the current relative positions of the United States and other countries in selected technology areas of interest to the Department of the Air Force: additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, ceramics, quantum, sensors, and space.

Areas of technological emergence were identified by detecting rapid growth in cumulative patent applications in specific technology areas and whether this occurred in the United States or China. The authors also describe and analyze the patent portfolios of U.S. companies that were early filers in these areas, focusing on small or medium-size companies that were not already owned or controlled by foreign entities; this, in turn, enabled identification of companies that had specific leading technological capabilities that could make them attractive for possible foreign acquisition. The authors propose a method to simultaneously identify connected areas of technological emergence and the companies with leading capabilities in these areas.

Key Findings

  • Over the entire period studied (1990–2017), the United States was the leader in far more emergences than any other country.
  • In cases in which the United States was the leader and China was the follower, the time difference between leader and follower was substantially greater on average than when China was the leader and the United States was the follower.
  • Although the United States remained the overwhelming leader in first emergences, for close emergences since 2001, there was a significant time-dependent shift in the number of early patent applications in the United States versus China.


  • Perform a detailed comparison of early filers in the United States and China and assess the relative quality of patent applications and products on the world market from early filers in each country in order to assess the extent to which China is approaching parity with or surpassing the United States in areas of recent close emergence.
  • Analyze the development of the U.S. technology network inferred from patent examiner co-assignments over time to identify connections between emergent technological areas (as indicated by these co-assignments) and the companies that are early filers in these connected emergent areas in order to identify the technology areas in which the United States has leading capabilities with broad applications.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force (SAF/AA) and conducted by the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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