Demystifying the 5G standard essential patent landscape

A new Clarivate report from Derwent™ patent experts Ed White, Gaurav Sawant and Parijat Oak explores 5G standards-essential patent declarations

A basic principle of communicating any message is that what’s sent is understandable when received. In the competitive and innovative world we live in, the devices and infrastructure over which messages are sent, transported and received are designed and built by a large number of different companies. But the need for communication means that they need to work to a standardized protocol of message and data exchange.

Over time, this need for consistency has extended from phone calls and faxes to influence how different smartphones from various manufacturers connect to cell phone networks provided by a competitive market of network providers.

That means that the telecommunication standards for mobile devices of every flavor have increased in their complexity and the amount of technology they cover – from antennae design and the way radio waves are encoded, to how devices are allocated a mobile signal connection.


Understanding 5G standards setting and patent declarations

In the 5G world, the basic principles of mobile device connectivity have increased again – in performance terms such as speed and bandwidth, but also in how many devices can be connected to a local cell network a time. For 5G, this has increased enormously over 4G and previous protocols. The complexity and breadth of the standards and protocols for 5G are greater than ever.

The source of these standards and protocols is the innovators and telecommunication companies themselves. Through a process of conference and discussion, standards-setting organizations (such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute or the International Telecommunications Union) take ideas, help with consensus building and hone in on which approaches, technologies and techniques will be incorporated and which will not.

As part of the responsibility of working in and with the protocol-setting process, the companies involved are required to tell the standards body if they have any intellectual property assets (mainly patents) that are likely to restrict usage of the protocol developed. This process is known as standards-essential patent declarations – where anybody who wants to use the devices that work to the standard would necessarily be using the patented technology of a patent holder.


New analysis from Clarivate reviews 5G patent declarations 

I recently co-authored a report with Gaurav Sawant (Senior IP Manager, Clarivate™) and Parijat Oak (Associate IP Director, Clarivate) on 5G-declared patent statistics reviewing the outcomes of standards-essential patent declarations, Demystifying the 5G standards essential patent landscape1. To read the full report, please see the form to the right of this post.

We found more than 27,000 individual patented ideas (covered by a much greater number of duplicate applications and issued patent rights in local legal jurisdictions). Just over half of those patented ideas have so far generated in-force patent rights, while the balance remains patent-pending.

Three quarters of those in-force patent rights are held by seven companies: Huawei, Samsung, ZTE, Nokia, Ericsson, LG and Qualcomm. The remaining quarter are spread across a further 170 entities comprising mobile and network device companies, service providers, chip manufacturers and research institutes. 


Patent declarations are an important first step in understanding the 5G patent ecosystem

A major difficulty in understanding which patents are essential to a standard comes from the fact that declarations are necessarily over-broad. Companies with patent portfolios in the space around the standard will operate from an abundance of caution, and often declare potentially relevant patent assets that in fact read only very narrowly, partially or indeed not at all onto the final standard due to the nuances of patent “claim” structure.  

What that means in practice is that our statistics surrounding standards declarations are just the first stage to understand the ‘standards essential patent’ (SEP) ecosystem for 5G. The world’s intellectual property professionals are needed to jump into these assets and review them for which are indeed essential.

For those companies that are looking to use the incredible potential of 5G-levels of connectivity – for industrial automation, for infrastructure monitoring, for smart cars and cities for example – this is a process to keep an eye on. The outcome of the SEP identification process is one that will determine who you partner with for access to technology, what approach you choose and ultimately how the commercial realities of your innovation will work once it reaches the market.

To learn more, read the full report from authors Ed White,Gaurav Sawant and Parijat Oak by downloading via the form to the right of this post. 

Interested in more research from the Derwent team? Read about companies headed for the Top 100 Innovators list, or see our recent analysis of the COVID-19 patent landscape.

1Clarivate was retained to prepare this report by Sidley Austin LLP on behalf of its client.