Analysis of patents, SEPs and standards in the smart healthcare sector
Healthcare is one of the most impactful, critical and intimate interactions of people with the rapidly changing technological paradigm. With the advent of so-called smart healthcare, the entire industry will experience a suite of new interconnected products and applications that improve upon current diagnostic and treatment procedures employed by healthcare professionals, as well as the care delivery experienced by patients. These novel and Industry 4.0-driven practices promise to improve healthcare for people with proactive monitoring, increased precision in surgical procedures, deep analytical insights and interconnected care delivery.
The most radical changes that smart healthcare brings can be summarised as follows:
- transformation of the medical model from being disease-centric to becoming patient-centric;
- a shift in generalised patient management to more personalised patient management;
- a change from a treatment-focused model to a prevention-focused model; and
- location-agnostic care delivery, where care is not confined to the four walls of a hospital.
The concept of smart healthcare is enabled by technologies such as AI, 5G, cloud computing, Big Data, robotics and the Internet of Things. From a doctor’s perspective, AI-powered systems could be leveraged to support diagnosis and decision making, use highly intelligent information management systems that report personalised stats for their patients and perform minimally invasive and highly precise surgical procedures using surgical robots and mixed-reality technologies.
Patients can benefit greatly from using wearable devices that can track their vitals and feed these into a personalised reporting dashboard that not only notifies them and their doctor of an anomaly, but also suggests changes to prevent diseases and promote healthier lifestyles. Patients can also be provided with immediate care by leveraging telemedicine technologies and can talk to virtual assistants for immediate support. The active monitoring and reporting of patients can help doctors deliver much more personalised care and even prevent the onset of diseases such as cancer.
Hospitals and medical research institutes can benefit from a smart healthcare ecosystem, where they have integrated systems for efficiently managing resources and streamlining their supply chain. Medical research institutes can use machine learning and Big Data to yield better and more accurate diagnostic techniques.
Smart healthcare will rely heavily on widely implementing connectivity standards, including 4G/5G, Wi-Fi 5/6, Bluetooth, HEVC/VVC and others. Such standards are subject to SEPs, implying that any company in the healthcare sector that implements connectivity standards will, at some point, have to pay royalties to acquire a licence for all SEPs, which for years have been licensed only in the smartphone and computer world. The healthcare sector will thus have to prepare to negotiate FRAND-based SEP licences soon, as connectivity standards are increasingly implemented in medical devices that transmit data or compress videos.
The IPlytics Platform database was consulted to count and compare the number of patent filings, SEP declarations and standards contributions that describe a smart healthcare application (Figure 1). The overtime statistics show that the number of smart healthcare patent filings has consistently risen over the past years. Standards development for smart healthcare technology standards and thus the number of submitted standards contributions have also increased, peaking in 2019 and then again in 2021. While the number of patents declared was very low between 2011 and 2016, patent declarations that described smart healthcare applications rose 10 times between 2016 and 2021, to a total of over 4,000 declared patents in 2021. These numbers confirm both strong patent filing behaviour and standards development for connectivity standards regarding smart healthcare applications, which ultimately led to an increasing number of potential SEPs.
Figure 1: Number of patent filings, SEP declarations and standards contributions that describe a healthcare application of connectivity (IPlytics 2022)
To get an overview of the market, we again consulted IPlytics Platform to aggregate the patent filings and SEP declarations with regard to their current assignees and the number of submitted contributions from the submitting entity (Table 1). The top three companies – Samsung, LG and Qualcomm – all file patents, contribute to standards development and have declared patents. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Sony or Siemens, in comparison, are among the strongest smart healthcare patent owners but do not seem to be involved with standards development, and thus did not declare any patents as standard essential. The table reflects the company’s strategy for technology development and R&D spending for smart healthcare technologies. It also represents companies from various industries such as the telecommunication sectors, medical device manufacturers, cloud providers, software companies, internet companies and universities.
Table 1: Number of patent families, SEP declarations and standards contributions that describe a healthcare application regarding the current assignee (IPlytics 2022)
Current assignee / contributing entity
Samsung Electronics (KR)
LG Electronics (KR)
Siemens AG (DE)
Cilag GmbH International (CH)
Intel Corporation (US)
General Electric (US)
Shanghai Imaging Healthcare (CN)
Panasonic Corporation (JP)
The General Hospital Corporation
The University of California (US)
Becton Dickinson (US)
The results from Table 1 show that smart healthcare technology development will be interdisciplinary, while going beyond the typical healthcare industry giants. New healthcare innovation looks set to disrupt the healthcare sector with new technologies and business models.
The fourth Industrial Revolution is no longer a future scenario. IP professionals and technical standards experts face the ever-growing challenge of making use of the advances of the latest technology standards, while keeping up with the increasing number of SEPs that must be used when implementing connectivity standards and will have to be licensed-in when patent owners ask for royalties. IP professionals across all industry verticals must rethink how they develop, evaluate and analyse patent portfolios with regards to standards. This means aligning these to protect innovations, participating in standards development and proactively engaging in continuous strategic portfolio development with regard to SEP licensing, acquisitions, joining patent pools and simply understanding the competition.
This is an insight article whose content has not been commissioned or written by the IAM editorial team, but which has been proofed and edited to run in accordance with the IAM style guide.
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