Every company will be a technology company

  • 5G communications and the Internet of Things will lead to a new patent rush
  • Sectors such as automotive, medical devices and fast-moving consumer goods will be the new smartphones
  • Clients will need advice on issues such as data protection, privacy, regulation and open source licensing

In May 2018 standard-setting body ETSI took the first step in setting the technical standards for 5G communication, which is expected to be rolled out within the next two years. The improved speeds and reliability and the reduced latency of 5G will enable the world to become fully connected, with technology embedded in everything from toothbrushes to tractors. It will also be a rich source of work for patent practitioners because, as one in-house counsel put it: “Every company will be a technology company.”

Tomorrow’s patent clients will be as likely to come from the financial services, consumer goods or energy industries as from traditional sectors such as pharmaceuticals and telecoms. Moreover, business models will change as technology becomes all-powerful. As one in-house counsel says: “Previously you were competing only on the product market. Now you are competing on technology, so there is a shift to building positions around key technologies.” A company may become successful not because of the quality of its products, but because it holds a critical patent.

The implications of these changes are explored further in our report on the future of in-house practices. For practitioners, there are two key lessons:

  • They will have a vital role to play in helping businesses to identify and exploit new business opportunities as they are sitting on valuable information about their clients’ and competitors’ patent portfolios. Properly used, that data could drive deals and establish market positions.
  • There will be an increasing number of issues around essentiality, FRAND licensing and competition and antitrust. Firms that cannot already offer expertise in this area will need to do so, and those that can come up with solutions as the law develops will be in high demand.

Lawyers and attorneys who have been used to helping clients to avoid risk increasingly find they are being asked to identify opportunities. For many, this will mean rethinking how they offer advice and the degree to which they are prepared to get involved in shaping clients’ business strategies.

Automotive answers

The automotive industry is facing fundamental change as a result of technology, and illustrates many of the IP challenges that are likely to arise in other sectors. For a start, the roll-out of connected and autonomous vehicles is already seeing power shift away from car manufacturers towards software and telecoms companies. That, in turn, raises questions about patent licensing and standards.

Some people are already predicting that cars will have their own version of the smartphone wars. Indeed, Broadcom filed several patent lawsuits against automobile manufacturers in the United States and Germany in 2018. In a bid to address the licensing issues, a new company – Avanci – has been set up to offer licences to car manufacturers as well as companies in other sectors. Avanci has already signed up a number of major patent owners and one car manufacturer, BMW.

The automotive industry is just one example of a sector that is likely to throw up many challenges for IP practitioners in the coming decade. To find out about other industries that are set for similar transformation, see our report on the future of in-house patent practices.

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