The aerospace and defense industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by environmental sustainability, electrification, and operational efficiency, and the 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 Environmental sustainability in defense: solar powered aircraft. Buy 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.

Solar-powered aircraft is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability

Solar-powered aircraft are aircraft that are powered by solar energy. This energy is harnessed through the use of solar cells or solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity. The electricity generated from the solar panels is used to power the aircraft’s propulsion systems, such as motors or propellers, allowing it to fly without relying on traditional fuel sources. These aircraft typically have large surface areas covered in solar panels to maximize the amount of sunlight that can be converted into energy.

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 80+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defense companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of solar-powered aircraft.

Key players in solar-powered aircraft – 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 solar-powered aircraft

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Technocraft Industries (India) 2 Unlock Company Profile
AeroVironment 23 Unlock Company Profile
AECOM 4 Unlock Company Profile
DISH Network 2 Unlock Company Profile
General Atomics 10 Unlock Company Profile
Karem Aircraft 8 Unlock Company Profile
Qualcomm 3 Unlock Company Profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 7 Unlock Company Profile
Thales 7 Unlock Company Profile
Lockheed Martin 8 Unlock Company Profile
Wing Aviation 11 Unlock Company Profile
TCOM 9 Unlock Company Profile
Alphabet 10 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 3 Unlock Company Profile
State Grid Corporation of China 3 Unlock Company Profile
LG Display 7 Unlock Company Profile
Snecma 9 Unlock Company Profile
Meta Platforms 23 Unlock Company Profile
Berkshire Hathaway 17 Unlock Company Profile
General Electric 3 Unlock Company Profile
U.S. Department of Defence 3 Unlock Company Profile
Fachhochschule Kiel 4 Unlock Company Profile
BAE Systems 5 Unlock Company Profile
MicroLink Devices 10 Unlock Company Profile
MicroJet Technology 4 Unlock Company Profile
Safran 5 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 138 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 73 Unlock Company Profile
Walmart 8 Unlock Company Profile
SoftBank Group 48 Unlock Company Profile
Ebara 4 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 4 Unlock Company Profile
DII 4 Unlock Company Profile
SolAero Technologies 12 Unlock Company Profile
SZ DJI Technology 4 Unlock Company Profile
Kaiser 6 Unlock Company Profile
Sunlight Photonics 13 Unlock Company Profile
EADS Deutschland 8 Unlock Company Profile
TVS Group 2 Unlock Company Profile
Meditor European Master Fund 15 Unlock Company Profile
Solar Ship 18 Unlock Company Profile
H3 Dynamics 4 Unlock Company Profile
XSun 4 Unlock Company Profile
X Development 4 Unlock Company Profile
Robotic Research 3 Unlock Company Profile
Verizon Patent And Licensing 6 Unlock Company Profile
SkyX 2 Unlock Company Profile
Lta 15 Unlock Company Profile
Wuhu Yuanyi Aviation Technology 2 Unlock Company Profile
Aigen 5 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Boeing is one of the leading patent filers in solar-powered aircraft. The aircraft manufacturer was granted a patent in 2020 for a solar-powered airplane comprising a modular main wing and a pair of relatively large modular winglets attached to the transverse end portions of the main wing. The aircraft uses solar panels mounted to both the main wing and the winglets to collect solar radiation, including relatively low-angle radiation.

In the same year, Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences (Aurora) was granted a patent for a solar power system comprising a solar panel, a group of voltage controllable battery packs, and an electric motor connected to a propeller.

Aurora is developing the solar-powered autonomous aircraft Odysseus, which is powered by lightweight advanced solar cells to remain airborne in high altitude for a very long time and has high-resolution observation capabilities to perform a wide variety of missions including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), climate research, and communications.

Some other key patent filers in the solar-powered aircraft space include Airbus, AeroVironment, and Solar Ship.

In terms of application diversity, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Solar Ship are some of the leading innovators. By means of geographic reach, the leading patent filers include General Atomics, Snecma, 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 Sustainability 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.