The idea of Intellectual Property (IP) is as old as the debates Aristotle used to have about philosophy and society. All mature civilizations and societies come to appreciate the value in preserving the IP created by its citizen and give the rights to the benefits that such IP creates. IP is enshrined in laws and principles of doing trade and business. It is also how nations outmuscle each other over long periods of time to become dominant economies.
In a knowledge economy, the very competitiveness and durability of the nation’s prosperity depends on how well the framework of IP and patents works in the country and the steps it takes to avoid theft and misuse of the laws while enforcing the rules and regulations on the books. IP has been an integral part of the economic engine of the western world for many decades if not centuries. Over the past two decades, nations and corporations have competed on the creation, funding, execution, and protection of the new ideas.
Mobile is first computing based technology that will encompass the entire human race and then some. In 2014, the number of cellular connections went past the human population. Additionally, the rise of IoT and Wi-Fi-led usage has meant that the use-cases for mobile and the impact it can have across verticals have exploded. Mobile has outgrown its own universe and now expanded to segments such as health, industrial, retail, education, agriculture, and more. As such, the intellectual property being generated has become very mobile centric. In 2014, the US crossed a major milestone, more than a quarter of the overall patents that were granted had something to do with mobile.
Mobile expertise and by extension the IP is being developed by more companies around the globe beyond the traditional ecosystem players such as Samsung, IBM, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Ericsson. Billion dollar mobile companies are emerging from India, China, and Europe. Africa and Latin America are not far behind. As expected, mobile has removed the artificial boundaries of time and distance and empowered developers across regions. Mobile is also leveling the playing field, increasing the opportunities for entrepreneurs far and wide. A dreamer in Nairobi has as good a shot at success as anyone else in the west.
All the innovation and economic activity has also increased the patent activity around the world. While US remains the leader in terms of overall quality and quantity. China and its companies are starting to flex some muscles on the big stage. In 2014, China went past the European leaders Germany, France to become the 3rd player behind US and Japan to file the number of patent applications. While US, Europe, and Japan remain the overall leaders in patents both in quantity and quality; China’s is at the top in terms of growth rate. Amongst the top 3 filers, Huawei and ZTE are from China (Qualcomm was the third player on the list).
According to the US Patent Office (USPTO), in 2014, the number of patents granted grew over 8% by the end of 2014 for the same time period. The numbers of foreign filings are now in the majority for both the applications filed as well as the patents granted.
As we look into the mobile related patents, the growth is much more striking. The number of mobile related patents that were granted by the USPTO and the EPO increased significantly over the course of last decade. The US market saw a 440% increase while the European market saw a 71% increase in mobile related patent grants.
Another interesting fact is that in 2014, for the first time, over a quarter of all patents granted in the US were mobile related. This grew from around 2% in 1991 and 5% in 2001. In Europe, roughly 9% of the patents granted are now related to mobile. Europe saw a decline of 4% in mobile patents in contrast of 16% growth in the US market.
It is also interesting to note that a number of new Asian companies like Mediatek, Alibaba, and Xiaomi have stepped up their IP efforts and substantially increased the filings in the US.
Chetan Sharma Consulting analyzed over 7 million patents granted by the USPTO and EPO over the last two decades to understand how mobile has become a key enabler for all technology companies. Furthermore, we looked at patent granted to the top 65 technology companies who are active in the mobile space to understand their relative strengths and weaknesses in the mobile patents landscape. This study is fourth in the series that does an in-depth quantitative analysis of the mobile patents landscape.
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