GreyB study: Huawei undisputed leader in 5G Standard Essential Patents (SEPs)

Market research firm GreyB cooperated with Amplified, which develops software for intellectual property research, to publish a “preliminary” report named ‘Who Owns Core 5G Patents? – A Detailed Analysis of 5G Standard Essential Patents (SEP)s.’ The stated aim of the project is ‘to bring greater transparency to the landscape of 5G standard essential patents.’

The caveat is that the data used for the study in this report is from March 2019 and its taken from the ETSI website, rather than ITU-R WP5D–IMT 2020 website.  Note that 3GPP members declare IPR not to 3GPP (which is not a legal entity but is a collaborative activity between several SDOs), but to their regional standard bodies for which they are participating.  Many of the 3GPP members are also ETSI members, so they declare their IPR to ETSI.

For info on 3GPP IPR handling:


From the report authors:

The report is the first of a series of collaborations between Amplified and GreyB that aim to bring greater transparency to the landscape of 5G standard essential patents. The data is large, opaque, and highly technical. Our focus will be on making the data involved more accessible and understandable. The issues are nuanced and complicated. We hope that this report and the following reports enable the many stakeholders involved to have more effective discussions and make better decisions.

Patents, which help protect the rights of the innovators who contribute to building the standard, may be declared as potentially essential and relevant to the standard. These are known as SEPs. Declaration does not require verification. Verifying that a patent is essential to a particular standard is a complex task
requiring significant time from experts in the field.

Importance of Standards:

Standards benefit businesses, policy makers, and society in general.

• They promote innovation in the market through rewarding R&D

• Help to commercialize the technology and bring products to market faster

• Ensure and define interoperability and interchangeability which gives manufacturers and consumers more choice

• Encourage improvement and competition in the market

• Help protect consumer safety

They balance cooperation and competition among innovative companies such that the net benefit is greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Manufacturers who implement standardized technology get an even playing field – a blueprint from which they can all build from at a predictable cost. This encourages more companies to participate in a market and innovate around the core technology.

Standards provide the ground rules for different devices, systems and processes to work together. Interoperable and interchangeable products gives consumers more choice and that encourages market pressure towards better, safer, and cheaper products.

Finally, standards provide policymakers with well-documented baselines and rules for implementation which helps them to understand the implications of new technology and take action to protect consumer, business, societal interests


5G Patent Leaders:

The strong conclusion of the report is that Huawei is the 5G SEP leader, and not just by a little bit. As you can see in the chart below, Huawei accounts for 19% of core (used in 5G standards/3GPP specs) patents, followed by the two Korean tech giants, which are surprisingly ahead of Huawei’s main rivals in this case.


GreyB originally got in touch with after reading an article there titled: 5G patent chest-beating is an unhelpful distraction. The purpose of the research is an attempt to cut through the noise created by various competing claims and get to the heart of the matter.

“5G is going to be next disruptive technology,” report co-author Muzammil Hassan of GreyB, told “And going by all the fuss around, it is important to know where each of the top contributors of 5G technology stand in terms of quality of innovation. Some may want to switch gears and file better inventions.”

One other metric GreyB was keen to flag up was ‘essentiality ratio,’ which seeks to illustrate the proportion of filed patents that make it into the core standard. Once more, in the chart below, Huawei comes top, but it should be noted that the ratio is derived from only those patents analyzed.

As a proportion of all declared patents Huawei is among the lowest at 13%, compared to the leader Nokia with 20%. Ericsson has the lowest ranks of all by this metric with 11%.  The Sweden based company is also the lowest in SEPs with only 9%.


Problems and pitfalls:

Reviewing historical work done in this field we’ve identified the following pitfalls which we seek to avoid:

• Extrapolating conclusions done from a small sample size

• Using proxies from 4G and projecting those onto 5G

• Taking declared numbers at face-value

• Implicitly framing all patents as equal by focusing on patent quantity only without accounting for quality

The complex nature of patent data analysis simply makes it impossible to address these issues completely so unfortunately it may be impossible to avoid all of these in entirety. However, it is our goal to create a reliable report and therefore we believe it is critical to acknowledge and account for them transparently and to the best of our ability. Our methodology is detailed in the appendix and we invite corrections, additions, criticism, and contributions.

Patent Source  and Study Methodology:

The data covered was all patents from the ETSI website 5G declaration list March 2019 version. This covers any patent or patent application declared to the ETSI 5G standard. Essentiality evaluation involves significant time and effort so there is a lag between release date of our report and data covered. We’ll issue updates as we continue to analyze the data.

• All patents declared to relevant 5G specifications and projects were selected resulting in 63,985 individual patent documents (granted patents, published patent applications, and non-public patent applications)

• ~500 Non-public patent documents, unavailable for inspection, were removed

• The remaining ~63,500 patent documents were grouped into 12,002 patent families.

• 6,402 of the 12,002 patent families with a granted patent having live legal status as of 31st December 2019 were kept, the rest were removed

• We determined our understanding of each of the 6,402 patent families by reading the claims and related embodiments from these granted patents and checked the correspondence history and documentation at the patent office to understand each patent.

• We determined essentiality for each patent family as a Core SEP or not by checking any specifications declared to be relevant by the patent holder to the SEP and compared the specific sections of these to compare overlap of the patent claims with those sections. If partial or no overlap was found, we then broadened our comparison to the wider group of all other specifications to repeat this process.



2021: Who Owns Core 5G Patents? – A Detailed Analysis of 5G SEPs

Huawei leads the 5G patent race

5G Patent Wars: Are Nokia’s 3,000 “5G” Patent Declarations Legit?

Strategy Analytics: Huawei 1st among top 5 contributors to 3GPP 5G specs

5G Market Research: What are the top companies upto?


2 thoughts on “GreyB study: Huawei undisputed leader in 5G Standard Essential Patents (SEPs)

  1. From John Meredith of ETSI and also former 3GPP Specifications Manager:

    For 5G SEPs, why ETSI and not 3GPP?

    3GPP is not a legally incorporated organization, and does not have its own IPR database. SEPs have to be declared to (at least) one of the seven Organizational Partner SDOs of which the patent holder is a member. And why ETSI? – because ETSI accounts for the vast majority of 3GPP member companies, 440 out of a total of 700. This is why IPR searches tend to gravitate to the ETSI database, at least as a starting point. All the big patent holders mentioned in the IEEE Techblog report are members of ETSI (but most if not all are also members of other 3GPP OPs as well). Therefore, their SEPs will have been declared, or will be declared, to ETSI.

    Furthermore, ETSI has a dozen or so diverse initiatives relating to 5G technologies, even if its 5G page concentrates mainly on 3GPP. Scroll down to the bottom of that page to “ETSI’s 5G Building Blocks”.

  2. In my view, China’s government indirectly finances a lot of Huawei’s research that leads to 5G SEPs.

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