What the numbers tell us about the growing market of wireless charging technology
The Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) led the trend to embed wireless charging capabilities into consumer devices and specified the Qi standard, which is the most widely used technology to wirelessly charge devices. The adoption of the Qi standard has accelerated as more and more charging stations offer convenient wireless charging for compatible devices. Leading manufacturers of all types of device in and outside the smartphone market are exploring the potential for wireless charging. The major benefits of replacing a wired charger connection with wireless charging are:
- Reliability – any wired connection is a potential point of failure.
- Increased design freedom – the designer can optimise the shape of the device and the use of its surface if they do not need to pick up a plug.
- Protected connections – no corrosion when the electronics are enclosed, away from water or oxygen in the atmosphere.
- Less risk of electrical faults (eg, short circuiting) due to insulation failure, especially where connections are made or broken frequently.
- Low infection risk – for embedded medical devices, transmission of power via a magnetic field passing through the skin avoids the infection risks associated with wires penetrating the skin.
- Durability – without the need to constantly plug and unplug the device, there is significantly less wear and tear on the socket of the device and the attaching cable.
- Increased convenience and aesthetic quality – no need for cables.
Companies currently offering wireless charging in smartphones (excluding aftermarket products) include Apple, Samsung, Sony, LG, Nokia, Huawei, Microsoft, Google and Blackberry. The Qi standard is the most popular wireless charging standard in the world, with more than 200 million devices supporting this interface. First released in 2008, by 2019 the Qi standard had been incorporated into more than 160 smartphones, tablets and other devices. In addition, there are currently 18 automotive brands that offer wireless charging through the Qi standard in cars either as a standard option or an add-on solution.
Wireless charging is also used in power tools, electric toothbrushes and medical devices. The portable equipment can be placed near a charging station or inductive pad without needing to be precisely aligned or make electrical contact with a dock or plug. Other standard organisations beyond the WPC have started to develop wireless charging standards for other uses, such as the following to charge electric vehicles:
- ISO 15118 – a vehicle-to-grid communication standard for wireless high-level communication between electric vehicles and the electric vehicle supply equipment.
- SAE J2954 – a Wireless Power Transfer standard for light-duty plug-in/electric vehicles, which defines acceptable criteria for interoperability, electromagnetic compatibility, electromagnetic field, minimum performance, safety, and testing for wireless power transfer.
- SAE J1773 – electric vehicle inductively coupled charging standard for inductive charging systems to charge electric battery vehicles.
Patent trends for wireless phone charging standards
In order to identify wireless charging patents, the IPlytics Platform was used to search and combine data from standards, standard contributions as well as patents and SEP data. Yet wireless charging is mostly used for the charging of devices, such as phones, computers, tablets and smart watches. The first set of analysis focused on all worldwide filed patents for wireless phone charging (see Figure 1). The results show a sharp increase of patent filings over the years and especially since 2018 to a top count of almost 6,000 patent filings in 2019.
Figure 1. Wireless phone charging patent filings from 2010 to 2019
In order to identify all active market players in the wireless phone charging world, the IPlytics Platform was used to aggregate all identified wireless phone charging patents with regard to the patent portfolio of each patent owner, making use of entity disambiguation techniques as well as using a corporate tree database. Further, it counted patents in relation to the corresponding patent family to determine the number of unique patented inventions per company (see Figure 2). The results show that US and South Korean-based companies can be found among the top patent owners. Here Samsung Electronics is leading the pack, ahead of Qualcomm, LG Electronics, LG Innotek, Apple and Intel. While most of the top patent owners are handset manufacturers or chip manufacturers the table also lists car manufacturers such as Hyundai, Kia Motors or Ford, which own large wireless phone charging patents.
Figure 2. Wireless phone charging patent families as to patent owner (2010 to 2020)
In January 2020 the MPEG LA patent pool administrator announced the availability of a licence for patents essential to the Qi standard, providing a one-stop access for wireless charging and power transfer. Among MPEGF LA, also Philips and Powermat Technologies published lists of SEPs licence for the Qi standard. Figure 3 shows the number of SEPs declared for the Qi standard as to patent owner. Only Philips, Powermat, General Electric, Bosch and ConvenientPower have declared that they own SEPs for the Qi standard. However, the results from Figures 1 and 2 suggest that there are hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of patents that could also be standards essential as major players, such as Samsung, Qualcomm or LG, which have not yet published any SEP declaration for the Qi standard.
Figure 3. Number of SEPs declared or pooled for the Qi standard
Patent trends for wireless vehicle charging standards
While the wireless charging of phones or other devices such a computers, tablets or smart watches has already been a market success, the wireless charging of electric vehicles is yet to rise. The IPlytics Platform was again used to identify patents that reference the three most relevant wireless electric vehicle charging standards ISO 15118 vehicle-to-grid communication, SAE J2954 wireless power transfer and SAE J1773 electric vehicle inductively coupled charging. Figure 4 shows the number of patents filed that reference ISO 15118, SAE J2954 or SAE J1773 over time. While patent filings for all three standards has been increasing the magnitude of the number of total patents is still small compared to the wireless phone charging patent filings, as Figure 1 demonstrates.
Figure 4. Number of patents filed that reference ISO 15118, SAE J2954 or SAE J1773 over time
Figure 5 shows the patent ownership of patent families filed that reference the wireless charging standard ISO 15118. The list of companies is dominated by car manufactures with top patent owner, such as Ford, BMW and Hyundai. Beyond the auto industry, the platform identified companies from the industrial manufacturing sector, energy sector and semiconductor sector, including Siemens, Innogy and STMicroelectronics.
Figure 5. Number of patent families filed that reference ISO 15118 as to patent owner
Future connectivity will not only be about wireless communication (eg, 5G or WiFi 6), but also wireless charging. Here, most wireless charging relates to charging a device, such as a smart phone, computer, tablet, smart watch, power tool, toothbrush or medical device. However, the wireless charging of vehicles has increased in importance, with the first standard projects set up at ISO and SAE.
The recently ratified Qi standard will become one of the most important standards to enable cordless charging of not only any device at a charging station, but also in cars or at an office desk or any surface where one may place a device. However, all wireless charging standards, in particular the Qi standard, are subject to an increasing number of patents, where some of these have already been identified as standards essential. IP professionals as well as directors in standard development should bear in mind some key considerations:
- Future technologies that enable connectivity will increasingly rely on patented technology standards such as the Qi standard and other wireless charging standards.
- IP professionals should not only consider information retrieved from patent filing data, but also monitor standardisation activities (eg, through standards contributions or declarations of SEPs to monitor market trends and competition).
- IP decision makers should bear in mind the dynamic market of SEPs, where patent assertion entities often acquire SEP portfolios to assert extensive royalty payments.
- IP professionals need to be aware that while the market for wireless charging standards and other connectivity type technologies is fairly new, it is now time to be thinking about what businesses will need two, five and 10 years in the future, and hand in hand with that, what patent portfolios will need to support that. Be proactive, not reactive. Do not get left behind.
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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