Using Big Data, IPs and Technology to Solve World Hunger: a Thomson Reuters Report

Topics: Litigation, Reports & White Papers, Thomson Reuters

How will we feed 9 billion people in 2050? That’s the question at the crux of a new multimedia report, 9 Billion Bowls, by Thomson Reuters.

An estimated 805 million people will go to bed hungry tonight. “Hidden hunger”—or micronutrient deficiency—affects a further 2 billion. But in 2050 the global population is expected to reach 9 billion, and to accommodate this growth we must nearly double our current output of food, feed, and fiber.

How will we feed ourselves sustainably in the future and make food scarcity a thing of the past?

9 Billion Bowls tells the story of a growing revolution: a diverse group of scientists, students, analysts and inventors turning insights into innovation at every link in the food supply chain. Using Big Data and leading edge technologies in entirely new ways to confront the hungry demands of our future.

Will China be the world’s breadbasket of the future?

One aspect of the report notes the importance of patents and the intellectual property (IP) process in fighting this problem. The report suggests that China may become a food exporter in the future, based on the number of patents it is seeking today in the area of crop breeding technology.

The report notes that until recently, it was inconceivable that the most populous country in the world would become a net food exporter. But according to Bob Stembridge, Thomson Reuters’ Customer Relations Manager in IP & Science, that is exactly the prediction over the next decade. “China is making a concerted effort to up the stakes in food production, and genetically modified (GM) foods will play a crucial part,” he says.

Follow the patents

How do we know? Stembridge and his team recently looked at trends in crop breeding technology, specifically at the countries with the most patent activity and companies or organizations generating the most patent requests in the area of crop breeding technology.


“The United States and China alone represent 68% of all of the patent documents associated with crop breeding around the world. These two countries are larger than the closest competing country by at least a factor of five,” Stembridge said.

It’s notable that while the U.S. has more patent applications over the past 5 years than China, the majority of the U.S. documents are coming from a small collection of private companies, while the Chinese applications are coming from a larger number of academic institutions, according to the report. Once China’s private industry begins patenting, there is a high likelihood that they will pass the U.S. in the number of crop breeding patent applications produced.

Unsurprisingly, current Chinese filings are primarily related to rice breeding, but they also show more diversification compared to filings in the U.S.

Bottom line? “Based on this recent filing data, it’s clear that China has taken a significant interest in crop breeding and is using these innovations to position themselves not only to meet the needs of their own population, but to potentially challenge the U.S. for the title of Breadbasket of the World,” says Stembridge.