Baidu Has Spent Over $15 Billion on Research in the Past Decade, CEO Declares in Letter to Shareholders

Baidu co-founder and CEO Robin Li at Tuesday’s bell-ringing ceremony for the company’s secondary listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. (Source: Baidu)

Chinese search engine and AI giant Baidu has spent over $15 billion on research and development (R&D) in the past decade, the company’s CEO Robin Li revealed in a letter to shareholders after its secondary listing in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Baidu’s annual total revenue had just reached $15 billion three years ago, Li added. The fact that the company is willing to spend an equivalent of its annual revenue on research proves that it is “determined and patient” enough to “resist the temptation of short-term opportunities and firmly face the challenge of long-term investments.” More than 20% of the company’s core revenue is devoted to R&D, Li said.

Founded in 2000, Baidu started out as an Internet services company with a focus on search engine technology, and has now served one billion users over the past two decades. The company then stepped into the field of artificial intelligence (AI) by investing in cutting-edge technologies like self-driving cars and deep learning. It has also developed original AI technologies like voice, image, knowledge graphs and natural language processing.

In the letter, Li stressed Baidu’s efforts in the AI field. Over the past three years, Baidu has filed the most AI-related patent applications in China, of which the firm has also been granted the most.

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Baidu Core’s cloud services revenue amounted to 9.2 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) in 2020, an increase of 44% from 2019. It also led in the number of autonomous driving licenses and sales of smart speakers in the domestic market, according to a report from Chinese broker CICC.

In its most recent Hong Kong listing, Baidu raised more than $3 billion by selling 95 million shares. The listing makes Baidu the first AI company to go public in the Asian financial hub, in what also represents the largest IPO in the AI industry. It is also the second largest overseas IPO for a Chinese company so far in 2021, according to the same CICC report.

The move comes as more Chinese companies listed in the US seek to return to their homeland for secondary listings. E-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com, tech firm NetEase, and education services provider New Oriental are among the recent flurry of Chinese tech companies turning to Hong Kong for fresh funds.

In the next decade, Baidu plans to focus on eight key areas in the field of AI, including autonomous driving, machine translation, biological computing, deep learning frameworks, digital city operations, knowledge management, AI chips, and personal smart assistants.

“We know that to ride the waves of the most cutting-edge technology, one must lay out a strategy for ten to 20 years in advance,” Li noted in his letter. “We have the determination, patience and resilience to transform our vision into reality.”