How standards and SEPs can help the move to a post-carbon economy

Just as carbon and methane emissions affect the world’s atmosphere, whether omitted in India, Europe or the United States, so do all of our actions as humans. We inhabit only one world, where we are all in this together.

In light of the fact that supply chains account for the largest share of the ecological footprint of products, decarbonisation is a challenge that must be tackled by all stakeholders together, where efficient query, calculation and transfer of information is key. Connectivity technologies such as 5G or WiFi 6 can support companies in tracking their carbon footprints and enable them to take targeted reduction measures, helping them transform sustainability into a decisive competitive edge.

The latest standards generations are developed by standard-development organisations (SDOs), including the European Telecommunications Standards Institute or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Technical standards are formed by the contributions of technical working committee groups made up of interested member companies, which by consensus or voting, agree on a technical specification in a standard. Patents that map onto this standard can then be declared to be SEPs, which makes them available in a recognised way to a much wider market under FRAND licensing terms. 

Standards subject to SEPs can play their part in mitigating climate change by lowering activities with significant carbon footprint in the following ways:

  • using standardised communication technologies to enable energy saving, storage and efficient use and to track the source of energy and thus the carbon footprint within the value chain of production; and
  • complying with recognised standards, which allows for the integration of applications across many different infrastructure and device points that optimise the minimal use of energy or electrical power wherever it is applied in such areas as mobility, communications, energy management, smart homes and cities or the IoT.

The IPlytics Platform database was consulted to count and compare the number of patent filings, SEP declarations and standards contributions describing communication technology that contributes to the reduction of carbon emissions (Figure 1). The overtime statistics show that the number of patent filings has consistently risen over the past years, with 1,294 yearly newly filed patents in 2021. Standards development and thus the number of standards contributions have also increased to 44 yearly newly submitted contributions in 2021. The number of patents declared peaked in 2019, with 37 new SEP declarations. These numbers confirm both strong patent filing behaviour and standards development for connectivity standards regarding technologies that contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.

Figure 1: Number of patent filings, SEP declarations and standards contributions that describe communication technologies contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions

Source: IPlytics 2022

To obtain an overview of the market, we again consulted the IPlytics Platform to aggregate the patent filings and SEP declarations with regard to their current assignees and the number of contributions from the submitting entity (Table 1). Top patent owners that both declared SEPs and developed the standards include Panasonic, Ericsson, LG Electronics, Samsung and Huawei. In comparison, Google, Semiconductor Energy Lab, State Grid Corporation and Siemens have strong patent portfolios for communication technologies that contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, but they neither develop the standards nor own SEPs. Orange and Thales are among the top standards developers but have only small patent portfolios.

Table 1 reflects the companies’ strategies for technology development and R&D spending for communication technologies contributing to decarbonisation. The table identifies companies from various industries such as telecommunications, energy, manufacturing or the Internet solutions. The list of companies and their business models are interdisciplinary, while going beyond the typical energy industry giants. Communication technology innovation that reduces carbon emissions looks set to disrupt the energy sector with new technologies and business models.

Current assignee / contributing entity

Declared SEPs

Patent filings

Standards contributions

Panasonic (JP)

34

160

0

Huawei (CN)

29

83

27

HTC (TW)

23

23

0

Nokia (FN)

14

77

18

Xiaomi (CN)

14

25

3

Ericsson (SE)

11

103

11

ZTE (CN)

11

36

1

Apple (US)

9

23

0

QUALCOMM (US)

6

55

4

Samsung Electronics (KR)

5

137

1

LG Electronics (KR)

4

224

1

IBM (US)

2

38

0

Mitsubishi (JP)

2

19

0

Saturn Licensing (US)

2

11

0

Sharp (JP)

1

38

0

Google (US)

0

222

0

Semiconductor Energy Lab (JP)

0

221

0

State Grid Corporation (CN)

0

123

0

Siemens (DE)

0

93

4

Johnson Controls (US)

0

88

0

Toyota (JP)

0

87

0

Vivint (US)

0

63

0

NEC (JP)

0

45

5

ETRI (KR)

0

42

14

Orange (FR)

0

9

43

Thales Group (FR)

0

9

24

Just as introducing measures to mitigate climate change is a real challenge,  every human action comes with a carbon cost in one way or another. This is also the case in the use of technology. Part of the solution in energy efficiency usage – irrespective of whatever source it may be derived from – is to apply globally or regionally recognised standards as a joined-up approach to how technology devices, systems and infrastructure interact with each other. This can only be achieved effectively if technical standards pertaining to patents are adopted for mainstream usage transparently across companies, different jurisdictions and with a clear understanding of acceptance between licensors and licensees.

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 that have to be licensed-in when patent owners ask for royalties. 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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