By Victor Liang, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Baidu Group
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses a serious threat to public health and presents a major economic challenge for countries across the globe.
Three of the foremost challenges confronting countries in this ongoing healthcare crisis are: First, how to screen people with symptoms in an effective and timely way to avoid cross-infection in crowded places; second, how to ensure patients get quick and appropriate treatment amid the rapid spread of the virus and in the face of limited medical resources. Coupled with this are issues regarding how to speed up the pace of medical research and how to best share high-quality, accurate information with the public. Third, how to solve labor shortages in the areas hardest hit by the virus and ensure that society continues to operate in relative safety, while stay at home orders are in place.
In responding to these challenges, Baidu has swiftly applied its expertise in artificial intelligence (AI), and associated technologies and products, to support frontline efforts to prevent and control the pandemic. Baidu’s ability to quickly respond to the present health crisis is enabled by its long-standing investment in cutting edge research and development. Baidu’s substantial AI patent portfolio is testimony to the quality and breadth of Baidu’s research and development effort. As reflected in the examples below, Baidu is proud to be able to use these patented AI technologies to help address the urgent needs of society in today’s battle with COVID-19.
Overcoming the screening challenge
Accurate and efficient screening is critical to safely reopening society. To aid screening, Baidu has developed and deployed an AI-based temperature measurement system that quickly and easily monitors people’s temperatures. The system was deployed swiftly in transportation hubs, such as railway stations and subway stations, and has become an effective anti-epidemic technology.
Baidu has been building its AI patent portfolio for techniques, such as its AI temperature measurement system, since 2016. The company now has more than 100 patent applications in this field. Baidu continues to innovate in this area by further developing and optimizing its AI temperature detection technology. For example, among other techniques, Baidu is developing new innovations for the infrared temperature measurement of people wearing masks.
Baidu’s AI infrared vision technology helps solve the problem of rapidly detecting the body temperatures of large numbers of people in densely populated areas with high volumes of traffic. Because the system involves no human contact, it can quickly screen crowds to improve detection efficiency and accuracy with minimal disruption to the public. Importantly, it does so while keeping people at a safe distance, thereby, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
In March 2020, as the virus began moving around the globe, the demand for technology to tackle COVID-19 started to increase daily in many countries. Baidu’s successes in developing and deploying products to tackle the disease and its spread in China was immediately recognized and attracted significant international attention. Many of Baidu’s AI-based technologies are now being exported overseas, allowing the company to play an important role in combating the global pandemic. As a result, the company is adopting a more comprehensive international patenting strategy to facilitate the transfer of its products and technology to the global market.
Baidu has swiftly applied its expertise in AI and associated technologies and products, to support frontline efforts to prevent and control the pandemic.
Ensuring rapid access treatment
Baidu has been building its portfolio of patents relating to “AI + Medical” since 2018, and is continuing to focus on this area of innovation. In the fight against COVID-19, AI + Medical has played and continues to play an active role in the prevention and control of the virus around the world.
Since the outbreak, there has been a surge in public demand for online consultation. Hospitals in China have started using the company’s “Smart Consulting Assistant” to help doctors make rapid diagnoses and initiate treatment online. This increased efficiency for medical consultations significantly reduces the burdens that would otherwise be placed on medical resources.
Baidu also provides free API interfaces to online health consulting platforms, public disease prevention and control platforms, online hospitals, and more. These platforms provide a direct interface with members of the public, providing responses to their questions, general information about COVID-19, as well as consultations. Using the tool can result in exponential efficiency gains because it can service tens of thousands of users a day.
Baidu has also leveraged its technology in the CT imaging field, which plays an important role in the diagnosis of coronavirus-related pneumonia. Traditional manual inspection of CT images requires significant work from highly trained professionals. To support the increased CT screening required by the virus, using PaddlePaddle, the company’s open-source deep learning platform, Baidu has partnered with LinkingMed (a Beijing-based oncology data platform and medical data analysis company) to develop an open-source AI model for pneumonia CT image analysis, which has now been put into use in hospitals in China. The open-source platform is also being used to support COVID-19-related clinical research and clinical product research and development across the medical sector.
Given the severity of the ongoing global healthcare crisis, Baidu has fully utilized its advanced technical capabilities, expertise and resources in developing specialized platforms for its Overseas Anti-Epidemic Philanthropic Program, which launched recently. The program provides four major services: online medical consultation, psychological consultation, expert live streaming, and safeguarding tools for users overseas. So far, the program has provided online consulting services for more than 400,000 overseas users in more than 100 countries. “I’m grateful for the technology and platform provided by Baidu. Baidu has become a powerful promoter for providing communication with high-level experts in the fight against the novel coronavirus,” says Carlos Larrea, the Ambassador of Ecuador to China.
Baidu technology is also making important contributions to the search for a cure to COVID-19. The LinearDesign algorithm, developed by Baidu Research in collaboration with Oregon State University and University of Rochester in the USA, is being used by mRNA vaccine companies to accelerate and optimize the design of possible COVID-19 vaccines. Baidu also provides a webservice, LinearDesign Webserver, to provide easy and free access to the algorithm. The algorithm needs only 16 minutes to design a stable mRNA sequence that has substantially better stability compared to wildtype sequences or randomly generated designs.
As in the example above, Baidu is making its AI + Medical-related patented products and services available to public organizations, contributing to disease detection, auxiliary diagnosis and treatment, public epidemic prevention and control.
Managing labor shortages
In the drive to maintain some kind of normality in people’s lives, demand for autonomous services is surging. Baidu’s Apollo low-speed autonomous car is a typical example of such technology.
The company has made available its Apollo open-source autonomous driving platform – with complete low-speed driverless micro-car kits and autonomous driving cloud services, to companies that are on the frontline fighting the coronavirus. The Apollo platform helps partners quickly develop and distribute vehicles for disinfection function to support frontline workers.
These products and services are underpinned by Baidu’s portfolio of patented autonomous driving inventions, which involves multiple core patents in the field of autonomous logistics vehicle and cloud computing technology. Baidu is voluntarily sharing these patented technologies and services with many partners, such as Neolix, Idriverplus, Jinlong Bus, Qingdao Wuniu Technology, Zhongke Huiyan, and many more. In so doing, its aim is to provide non-human-contact, autonomous services, such as the disinfection of medical vehicles, meal delivery, and real-time monitoring of the coronavirus. These collaborations have allowed Baidu to further enhance its contribution to the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
Supporting urgent societal needs
Baidu’s leading AI-related technological advances and patented technologies, as well as its commitment to work with its partners in sharing and deploying these technologies, is enabling the company to help address some of the urgent needs of society during the pandemic.
Hundreds of patented technologies and patent applications for new, groundbreaking technologies are playing a part in fighting this pandemic. They are also supporting technological innovation in the area of AI and the implementation and deployment of AI-based technologies in society.
Baidu’s “innovation genes”
Baidu has innovation in its genes; it is China’s best-known Internet company and a pioneer of AI research. As such, Baidu has always attached great importance to intellectual property when developing its AI technology. Baidu has a unique portfolio of patents, and licensing agreements with its partners, upon which to build a thriving AI innovation ecosystem.
Through proactive patent analysis and forward-looking patent portfolio management, Baidu has demonstrated its expertise and competitive advantage in the field of AI. From its first foray into AI in 2010, to the establishment of its deep learning laboratory in 2013, Baidu is now among the leading companies in China in terms of the number of AI-related patents it holds and the number of such applications it has made.
Last year, the WIPO Technology Trends 2019 report on Artificial Intelligence ranked Baidu second globally for the number of patent applications in the field of deep learning. And in the Artificial Intelligence China Patent Technology Analysis Report, released by the National Industrial Information Security Development Research Center of China in December 2019, Baidu was ranked number one in China, with 5,712 national patent applications.
In addition to focusing on accumulating and expanding its patent portfolio, Baidu has also paid great attention to improving the quality of its patents. Every patent drafted by Baidu is carefully examined to ensure it has the technical depth to achieve high value for the company. In December 2019, Baidu ranked first in the Chinese Artificial Intelligence Patent Value and Competitiveness Report, published by the China Intellectual Property Press. The report measured the number of patent applications as well as the value and competitiveness of the company’s patents. Baidu’s emphasis on both quantity and quality is now widely recognized.
An expanding network of partnerships underpinned by IP
Baidu’s growing network of business collaborations is also underpinned by the company’s extensive AI-related patent portfolio. In terms of patent licensing, Baidu has always maintained an open attitude towards collaborating with domestic and foreign partners in the spirit of creating an ecologically-sound, prosperous and sustainable society. The integration of AI technology across industries has led to new and diverse areas for patent protection, including innovative AI algorithms and applications of AI technology. Based on its experience in acquiring large numbers of quality patents, Baidu is now able to use AI patents to help partners quickly implement AI technology and promote its use across the industrial landscape.
In 2015, Baidu brought together more than 20 leading companies to form an Intellectual Property Industry Alliance for AI-based voice to empower partners through patent licensing. In 2019, Baidu and Haier signed an IP cooperation agreement to carry out cross-border cooperation in the field of AI and Internet of Things (IoT), share the advantages of both parties through mutual patent licensing, and pursue the implementation of “AI + IoT” smart homes. Baidu will further explore such collaborations to support the development of a prosperous AI ecosystem in the near future.
In the course of this pandemic, Baidu has fulfilled its corporate social responsibility (CSR) and devoted its know-how and technological resources to public welfare. The company has used its strengths to help fight the coronavirus and demonstrated its commitment to good corporate citizenship and accountability through action. It has made available patent-related products and services to public service organizations, such as scientific research institutes and medical institutions. And in a spirit of solidarity, Baidu is working with society as a whole and collaborating with its partners to help prevent the transmission and eventually stop the spread of COVID-19.