Who is leading the 5G patent race?
5G will not only change the way that humans communicate, it will also change the way that everything communicates. The whole physical world (eg, vehicles, ships, buildings, meters, machines, factories, medical devices and other items) will be connected through electronics, software, sensors and the Cloud.
Patent owners for 2G, 3G and 4G have controlled how mobile technologies are used in the smartphone and computer industry over the past few years. Thus, 5G patent owners will likely become technology and market leaders. Any company that owns 5G SEPs may request royalties from an implementer – while this will which create a lucrative market for holders of the relevant patents, it could well be a legal risk for implementers as the royalty amount deemed ‘reasonable’ for 5G patents is impossible to predict.
The IPlytics Platform integrates data from worldwide patents, patent declarations, standards documents and contribution documents (Figure 1). The database allows us to identify patents declared to 5G standards. While patent declarations cannot be interpreted as legal evidence for actual essential patents, declaration information is the best source for understanding the potential 5G patent landscape.
Figure 1. Data integration of patents, declared SEPs, standards and contributions
In order to identify declared 5G patents, the standards and declaration databases from the IPlytics Platform were correlated. IPlytics used the classification of technical specifications in technology generations (ie, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G), originating from the standards data provided by the consortium that develops the 5G standard, 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). This approach allows us to precisely define whether a patent declaration is 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G relevant, or relevant for combinations of multiple standards generations. The following analysis is based on patents declared essential to standards specifications, as well as project descriptions that relate to 5G. Utility models were not counted as they represent 0.08% of all 5G-relevant patent declarations only. Further, 5G declarations that have not yet been published (eg, US provisional applications) were not counted as they represent 0.9% of all 5G relevant patent declarations only. All 5G-relevant patent declarations were counted as to the relevant patent families using the INPADOC family definition. As of November 2019 75,654 5G patent declarations were identified, which resulted in 20,194 5G patent families, of which:
- 98% are active and at least one family member has an active status (it has not lapsed, been revoked or expired);
- 78% have been filed in at least one of the following offices: the USPTO, EPO or through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) route;
- 44% include at least one granted patent;
- 24% have already been declared to preceding technology generations such as 2G, 3G or 4G; and
- 98% relate to technical specification that are classified as district 5G specification (in comparison to the 2% that relate to technical specification relating to a combination of, for example, 5G/4G or 5G/3G).
Using IPlytics’s standards, patents and declaration database, Table 1 illustrates the top patent owners of declared 5G patent families. The Chinese company Huawei has the largest declared 5G portfolio, followed by the South Korean companies Samsung and LG and the Finnish company Nokia. Qualcomm and Intel are the largest US companies holding declared 5G patents; Sharp and NTT DOCOMO are the largest Japanese ones. The Chinese companies Vivo Mobile and Guangdong Oppo have newly entered the market. The second column shows the number of 5G families that have been filed internationally (USPTO, EPO or PCT). Here, Samsung has the largest international 5G portfolio followed by Huawei, LG, Nokia and Ericsson (column 2). When counting granted 5G patent families only, again Samsung owns the largest 5G portfolio, followed by LG, Nokia and Huawei. The Chinese companies ZTE (7,4%), China Academy of Telecommunications Technology (CATT) (11,7%), OPPO (9,5%) and Vivo (0%) have very low grant rates as of November 2019. However, the granting process may take several years; since 5G is a recent technology, 5G patents may be just recently filed. One can assume that many of the declared 5G patents will be granted at some point in the future.
Table 1: Top patent owner of 5G declarations as to the number of patent families as to office of application and grant status
|Company name||Declared 5G families||Filed at USPTO, EPO or PCT||Granted in one office|
|Huawei Technologies (CN)||3,325||2,379||1,337|
|Samsung Electronics (KR)||2,846||2,542||1,746|
|LG Electronics (KR)||2,463||2,296||1,548|
|Nokia (including Alcatel-Lucent) (FI)||2,308||2,098||1,683|
|ZTE Corporation (CN)||2,204||1,654||596|
|Intel Corporation (US)||934||885||171|
|Sharp Corporation (JP)||808||677||444|
|NTT Docomo (JP)||754||646||351|
|InterDigital Technology (US)||428||346||226|
Guangdong Oppo M Telecommunications (CN)
|Vivo Mobile (CN)||193||168||0|
|ASUSTeK Computer (TW)||117||103||35|
|NEC Corporation (JP)||114||102||84|
|KT Corporation (KR)||75||53||15|
|Mororola Mobility (US)||56||54||50|
|Lenovo Group Limited (CN)||51||48||19|
|HTC Corporation (TW)||46||44||40|
|WILUS Group (KR)||41||20||2|
|FG Innovation (CN)||33||33||4|
|Sony Corporation (JP)||22||17||23|
|SK Telecom (KR)||12||8||0|
|Spreadtrum Communications (CN)||11||8||6|
The first column of Table 2 counts 5G declared patent families with the earliest priority date after 2012. As to interviews with engineers from 3GPP, it is assumed that the main inventions for 5G technologies came up in the years following 2012. The counts of 5G declarations with a priority date after 2012 show a leading position for Huawei, followed by Samsung, LG and ZTE. Only 44% of all declared 5G patent families from Nokia have a priority date after 2012. Also, the 5G portfolios of Qualcomm (62%) and Ericsson (68%) show lower counts for 5G patent families with a priority date after 2012. In comparison, ZTE or CATT and Intel have declared 5G patents that have been mostly invented after 2012 (ie, within the time period that is considered the most likely to include new 5G inventions).
In addition, IPlytics identified declared 5G patent families where at least one patent has been already declared to previous standards generations such as 2G, 3G or 4G (column 2). 90% of Huawei, 99% of ZTE, 95% of Intel and 92% of Sharp’s 5G patent families have been solely declared to 5G. In comparison, Ericsson with a rate of 68%, Qualcomm’s 69% and Nokia’s 78% have declared many patents that were already declared to 3G or 4G years before 5G was developed.
Finally, IPlytics counted 5G patent families declared to standards specification originating from groups RAN1, RAN2, RAN4, SA2, SA3, SA4 and CT1 that work on user equipment, in comparison with groups that work on infrastructure technologies (eg, RAN3). Again, Huawei declared the largest UE relevant 5G portfolio and the order of rank looks very similar to the overall declared number of 5G patent families.
Table 2: Top patent owners of 5G declarations as to the number of patent families as to the earliest priority date, earlier 2G, 3G or 4G declaration and relevant groups working on user equipment technologies
|Company name||With a priority date after 2012||Not declared to 2G 3G or 4G||In UE relevant groups|
|Huawei Technologies (CN)||2,790||3,018||3,106|
|Samsung Electronics (KR)||1,893||2,012||2,805|
|LG Electronics (KR)||1,729||2,030||2,354|
|Nokia (including Alcatel-Lucent) (FI)||1,091||1,902||1,995|
|ZTE Corporation (CN)||1,871||2,202||2,140|
|Intel Corporation (US)||895||904||859|
|Sharp Corporation (JP)||580||756||770|
|NTT Docomo (JP)||561||704||679|
|InterDigital Technology (US)||234||308||336|
|Guangdong Oppo M Telecommunications (CN)||343||378||378|
|Vivo Mobile (CN)||193||193||193|
|ASUSTeK Computer (TW)||115||117||117|
|NEC Corporation (JP)||64||99||80|
|KT Corporation (KR)||74||74||65|
|Motorola Mobility (US)||#NV||26||3|
|Lenovo Group Limited (CN)||35||40||49|
|HTC Corporation (TW)||21||30||6|
|WILUS Group (KR)||41||41||41|
|FG Innovation (CN)||31||33||32|
|Sony Corporation (JP)||3||7||20|
|SK Telecom (KR)||12||12||12|
|Spreadtrum Communications (CN)||11||11||11|
Beyond the patent declaration data analysis, it is also worth examining the companies that are actively involved in the 5G standards development. The 5G standard is specified in international meetings in which companies present and submit technical contributions. Using the database and analytics of the IPlytics tool, Table 3 shows the top 30 companies that submitted technical contributions to 5G. Again, Huawei is responsible for most 5G contributions, followed by Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and ZTE.
In many cases, standards contributions are submitted by several companies. In general, there is a main company that is responsible for the contribution and other companies join later to submit it. The first column is a count of all the companies that have been in a group that submitted the standard contribution, while the second column counts contributions for the first contributor only.
A different way of counting contributions made by multiple companies is to calculate its share. For example, if there are four companies submitting a contribution together, each company will receive a pro rata value of 0.25. The third column represents the counts of proportionate standards contributions (ie, how many contributions the company made proportionately). After applying this weighting, Ericsson has submitted more pro rata standards contributions than Huawei for 5G, since Ericsson has made many standard contributions alone.
Table 3: Top companies submitting technical contributions for 5G standards
|Contributing company||5G contributions||First contributor||Weighted||In UE relevant groups||Approved|
|Huawei Technologies (CN)||19,473||17,466||11,992||11,662||5,855|
|Nokia (including Alcatel-Lucent) (FI)||11,555||9,633||5,314||7,195||3,804|
|ZTE Corporation (CN)||4,692||3,628||3,492||3,117||1,188|
|Samsung Electronics (KR)||4,573||3,541||3,434||3,539||1,239|
|Intel Corporation (US)||3,656||2,895||2,752||2,798||962|
|LG Electronics (KR)||2,578||1,966||1,880||2,129||685|
|China Mobile (CN)||2,567||1,748||1,737||1,437||787|
|NTT Docomo (JP)||2,042||1,487||1,459||1,491||549|
|NEC Corporation (JP)||1,276||870||901||1,005||347|
|Deutsche Telekom (DE)||1,263||501||596||1,016||397|
|Lenovo Group Limited (CN)||1,261||917||566||1,014||413|
|Motorola Mobility (US)||1,247||856||580||999||406|
|AT&T Group (US)||1,174||71||282||928||343|
|InterDigital Technology (US)||1,155||601||686||1,018||317|
|Guangdong Oppo (CN)||943||682||673||908||190|
|Telecom Italia (IT)||801||181||249||689||225|
|Vivo Mobile (CN)||668||534||535||665||159|
|Cisco Systems (US)||653||466||438||357||183|
The fourth column of Table 3 only includes contributions submitted in the user equipment-relevant groups RAN1, RAN2, RAN4, SA2, SA3, SA4 and CT1.
Standards contributions must be accepted and approved within the groups in order to be included in the final specification. The fifth column counts standards contributions approved by 3GPP members only. Overall, about 10% of all contributions have been approved for 5G. Most of the approved contributions have been submitted by Huawei, closely followed by Ericsson and Nokia. Samsung overtakes ZTE for approved contributions.
5G SEP licensing looks set to become a major issue not only for the handset industry, but for any sector in which connectivity matters. Senior patent managers and patent directors should bear in mind some key considerations concerning 5G patents:
- Future technologies that enable connectivity will increasingly rely on patented technology standards such 5G.
- The number of 5G SEPs is constantly rising – patent directors should consider royalty costs and appropriate security payments in advance.
- Patent directors should not only consider information retrieved from patent data, but also monitor and consider standardisation data such as technical contributions to understand the landscape of 5G patent owners.
- Manufacturers should pursue a common strategy for patenting and standardisation to ensure that they are fully engaged in developing future connectivity technologies.
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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