Richard Lloyd

Samsung and Qualcomm are the leaders of the pack when it comes to patents related to the Internet of Things (IoT), according to new research from Relecura - with the Korean company ramping up its filing at an astonishing rate.

According to Relecura, Samsung is top dog in terms of the number of patents with a total of just over 4,500, including more than 2,000 in the last two years alone. For its part, Qualcomm dominates when it comes to quality: 852 of the company’s assets are deemed to be high quality (this requires at least 3 out of 5 in Relecura’s scoring system). Intel is in second with 412, while Samsung comes in third with 393. According to Relecura, Qualcomm’s haul of high quality assets represents just over 7% of all such grants in the space, suggesting that the chipmaker’s strength in the smartphone and tablet sectors is extending to the IoT. 

Qualcomm is also in second place on quantity - though its 2,880 assets lag far behind the Samsung total. LG, Huawei and Intel round out the top five in a top 20 list that also features some of the world’s other largest patent owners, such as ZTE, Ericsson, Philips, IBM and Microsoft.

As Relecura makes clear, the definition of IoT is fairly fuzzy but its report covers a broad range of categories to capture almost 130,000 relevant applications and grants from around the world. 

Although this is an area still in its relative infancy, a significant number of IoT patents have changed hands in recent years, largely as part of broader M&A deals. Avago picked up more than 500 assets when it bought rival chipmaker Broadcom in 2015 (the merged business has retained the Broadcom brand), while Google has steadily added to its stockpile with deals for the likes of Motorola Mobility and Nest Labs. As the sector continues to expand then there will presumably be more key IP assets tied up in deals.

Relecura’s report makes for particularly interesting reading because we’re in the very early days of IP value creation when it comes to IoT. Avanci, the new licensing platform launched last year to license 2G, 3G and 4G patents in a number of IoT sectors, is one of the first organised attempts by major players in the wireless space to earn a return on their IP, but most companies are still figuring out how to use their patents to gain freedom to operate or to generate a licensing return.     

Because of the volume of connected devices that the IoT is likely to generate — Gartner predicts 21 billion by 2020 (not including smartphones, tablets and computers) — those with hefty and high quality portfolios should be in a very strong position to either earn royalties or use their IP as leverage in broader business relationships. The size of the licensing opportunity might be a particularly tough test for an industry that has struggled in recent years to determine just what constitutes a fair return for IP owners, but it also promises to put those with the leading portfolios in a very strong position.