Jacob Schindler

A new report on the global patent landscape for 4G-LTE technologies confirms that Qualcomm possesses a commanding position with its SEP portfolio, even as Asian challengers continue to increase their collective slice of the pie. But filings in jurisdictions like China and South Korea are growing faster than those in the US, and the dynamics there are markedly different.

The analysis was prepared by iRunway, a provider of patent licensing and litigation support, and it encompasses 171,208 patent rights around the world. This blog previously reported on a similar study which was restricted to just USPTO-issued patents. Looking at the global macro picture, many of the same dynamics are apparent.

At the time of that previous study, Samsung reigned as the leading owner of US SEPs in the 4G space. If you excluded SEP-declared applications and looked only at granted US patents, it was LG Electronics which had the slimmest of leads at the time (June 2017) – just one more than its rival and compatriot.

But broadening beyond the US, Qualcomm’s comprehensive global patent filing strategy gives it a virtually unassailable lead. The chipmaker has 21,451 total 4G patent assets, including 13,218 issued rights. That is very nearly double the numbers owned by Samsung, which is its closest rival. Along with the aforementioned LG Electronics, Nokia and Ericsson round out the top five.

China is a crucial market for SEP owners – with a large amount of standards implementation and a litigation system that is becoming more favourable to patent holders – and that is borne out in the level of filing there. About 18% of global 4G-LTE patents are Chinese rights – putting the country second only to the United States and just ahead of the EPO.

While Qualcomm has a healthy lead over its nearest rivals globally, that is not so in China. It is in the top spot with 2,689 Chinese assets, but Huawei is not far off the pace, trailing by less than 100 rights. Despite dramatically increased filings in recent years, ZTE does not factor much into the overall global analysis. In its home market, however, its efforts are good enough for the number three spot.

The Korean market is the only one analysed by iRunway where Qualcomm must settle for second place, with Samsung leading the pack. Samsung’s filing total for Korea is about 80% of what it files in the US market, while LG Electronics opts to protect substantially less – only half its USPTO-granted rights are also filed at the Korean IP Office. There is much more nuance to the protection strategy detailed in the report, which finds that both Korean conglomerates use local patents to protect a very specific subset of their 4G technology portfolios.

Given that the majority of LTE licensing is done on a global portfolio basis, it may be that the international picture is what really matters most. But at this particular moment, the 4G space is far from harmonious, and most of the players above are involved in a substantial amount of litigation as fundamental disputes over royalties remain unresolved. Regulators in Asia are also very active in policing the licensing market for LTE technologies at the moment, and they can be expected to take account of both global and local patent dynamics.

IAM was able to review a full copy of the report, which is available for purchase here.