USPTO: No clear winners in 5G patent filings; caution urged when reviewing claims of “5G dominance”

A report published in February 2022 examines which companies have filed for patents at the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) in four technologies: Management of Local Wireless Resources, Multiple Use of Transmission Path, Radio Transmission Systems, and Information Error Detection or Error Correction in Transmission Systems. USPTO says that approach narrowed the focus to patent flings on technologies central to 5G innovation.  The report concludes that there’s no clear lead to be seen: The findings of the report call into question claims that any single firm or country is ‘winning’ the 5G technology race.

Six companies topped the results, none with any notable lead.  They were: Ericsson, Huawei, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. The report notes that while ZTE often is mentioned as a competitor to those six firms, it filed far fewer patents outside of China during the study period.  The report authors did a textual analysis of the 22,000-plus patent filings studied to see if any of these competing firms stood out in particular attributes. Here, more subtle differences emerged.

Qualcomm’s patents had the most “legal breadth,” in the sense of making shorter (and therefore generally broader) claims about covered inventions; Ericsson and Nokia ranked higher for “radicalness,” meaning they cited less prior art as references; and Qualcomm and Samsung did well on “technical relevance,” or how often other patents cited their own patents or applications as prior-art references.

The USPTO report references a January 6, 2021 directive from the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration), the “National Strategy to Secure 5G Implementation Plan,” in which the NTIA sought “an informed understanding of the global competitiveness and economic vulnerabilities of United States 5G manufacturers and suppliers.”

This line from the USPTO report is significant: “Given the complexity of the results, caution is recommended when reviewing media claims of 5G dominance.”


Here’s Statista’s take on leading 5G patent holders (as of February 2021):

An IEEE Techblog post from March 2021 examined claims that Huawei and Samsung were the leaders in 5G SEPs (Standard Essential Patents).  Earlier related IEEE Techblog posts are listed in the References.

Even though there is no definition of 6G (while 5G standards and frequency arrangements are woefully incomplete), an April 2021 report authored by the Chinese Patent Office states that China currently holds 35% of all 6G patents worldwide. The report urged China to “utilize its technological advantage in 5G to continue staying ahead.”   

–>If you believe that, I’d like to sell you a 6G smart phone!


Huawei or Samsung: Leader in 5G declared Standard Essential Patents (SEPs)?

5G Specifications (3GPP), 5G Radio Standard (IMT 2020) and Standard Essential Patents

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


6 thoughts on “USPTO: No clear winners in 5G patent filings; caution urged when reviewing claims of “5G dominance”

  1. Thanks for writing about this interesting study from the USPTO, Alan. It looks like there are no clear-cut winners in this “race”. It is amazing that only one U.S. company is in the top 8.

  2. Despite so many patents filed related to 5G technologies, the majority of 5G deployed today (5G NSA) is not more advanced than 4G-LTE. Without the 5G SA core network architecture and URLLC solutions implemented in 5G networks, one can not effectively realize and deploy true end-to-end 5G use cases and vertical industry applications.

    Note that ALL 3GPP specified 5G functions and features require 5G SA core network, including network slicing, automation, and 5G security. Also, MEC is facilitated by a 5G core network (it’s very difficult to implement in 5G NSA which has a 4G core/EPC). Also, mission critical 5G applications require ultra high reliability, while real time control 5G applications must have exceptionally low latency (ITU-R M.2410 performance requirements for URLLC specifies <1 ms latency in data plane and <10 ms in the control plane).

    I often wonder if the referenced companies played a game in 5G patent filing. One such game is filing for a SEP (Standards Essential Patent), which becomes a money machine when granted via SEP licensing revenues and resulting profits.

    That's a far cry from the old Bell Labs era, when patents produced REAL innovation and facilitated new applications and use cases for the given technology.

  3. Compliments to the IEEE Techblog which continues to provide insightful coverage and analysis of the tech patent landscape, particularly in 5G related areas.

    In the current commercial world of fragmented 5G implementations and non-interoperable 5G network offerings (especially for the few 5G SA networks), “essential” patents are relatively scarce. Also, the enforceability of the patents becomes much more questionable and so their value is diminished.

  4. Intel Corp convinced a U.S. appeals court on March 24th to cancel parts of a Qualcomm Inc telecommunications patent, reversing a patent tribunal’s decision.

    The ruling by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit comes three years after Intel challenged parts of the Qualcomm patent, which relates to receiving wireless communications over multiple carrier signals.

    In particular, “carrier aggregation,” or as Intel describes it “simultaneous (transmit/receive) operation on multiple carriers.”

    The technology can help communications systems reach higher maximum rates for transmitting data.

    Intel argued that the invention could not be patented because it had been publicly disclosed in an earlier, unrelated patent application and a technical report by a telecommunications-standard group.

    A three-judge Federal Circuit panel agreed, reversing a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

    Qualcomm had previously sued Apple Inc for infringing the same patent and other chip-related patents. Qualcomm and Apple settled their patent dispute in 2019.

    Intel declined to comment on Thursday’s decision. Qualcomm and its attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The case is Intel Corp v. Qualcomm Inc, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 20-2092.

    For Intel: Gregory Lantier of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

    For Qualcomm: Sasha Mayergoyz of Jones Day

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