US study shows 5G patent competition

US study shows 5G patent competition

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

A report by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has found that, unlike previous generations of technology, no one company is dominating 5G wireless.

The report, Patenting Activity among 5G Technology Developers, shows that six companies—Qualcomm, Ericsson, Huawei, LG, Nokia, and Samsung—consistently filed the most 5G patent applications in the last decade.

“From the personal computer to satellite technology, the last few decades of technological innovation have dramatically changed the way we live,” said Drew Hirshfeld, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property (IP) and Director of the USPTO. “These patents support a vibrant digital economy that enables more citizens to benefit from the promise of 5G wireless communications networks.”

The report examines overall patenting trends as well as trends in patent filings in the four most-patented 5G-related technologies. These cover management of local wireless resources, multiple use of transmission path, radio transmission systems and information error detection or error correction in transmission systems. In these four areas, Qualcomm and LG emerged as the most active, followed by Samsung, Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia.

This is a key requirement for patents that form part of the 3GPP standards. The European standards body ETSI in particular is highlighted in the report with its requirement to identify key technologies.

Despite great interest in identifying the company strongest 5G patent portfolio, finding companies with essential patents is hard to assess. Although contributors must declare patents that might be essential to the standard, may be very difficult to ascertain which patents “read on” or claim the technologies incorporated in the final standard, says the report.

Without reliable and comprehensive direct information, existing studies have attempted to estimate 5G leadership by counting the number of technical contributions submitted by companies during standards development and/or the number of patents and applications that companies declare potentially relevant to the standard. Using these and other methodologies, four relatively recent studies reach different conclusions as to which company leads in 5G innovation.

All of them, however, identify Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, and Qualcomm, and three of them add LG and Samsung.

Part of the challenge comes from the use of patents in different regions. To overcome this, the report looks at both global and ‘triadic’ patents where at least one patent application is filed with, or patent granted by, each of the USPTO, the European Patent Office and the Japan Patent Office.

The data demonstrates that companies contrast sharply between worldwide and triadic families. According to the worldwide flings for the period examined, Huawei filed the highest number of ETSI-declared 5G patent families worldwide, followed by LG, Qualcomm, and Samsung. Huawei’s declared filings were 12% more than those of the second-largest filer, LG, and nearly 25% more than Qualcomm’s. Of worldwide flings, ZTE has declared more patent families worldwide than Nokia or Ericsson.

However looking at triadic patent families (above) leads to different outcomes. Then Qualcomm is the most significant filer, followed by Samsung, LG, and Huawei. The report points out that this is a snapshot of technologies in May 2021 and it is likely that some families that were not triadic may competitiveness become triadic as new versions of patents are published and/or declared essential.

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