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5G technology: How to identify 5G patents in your portfolio?

A lot has been going on in the world of 5G technology. In June 2018, 3GPP released standalone and non-standalone specifications (example 38.xx series) for 5G. Following the move, the global wireless industry’s biggest players like Qualcomm, Nokia, and Ericsson have begun outlining their patent-licensing positions on 5G to decide the royalty rates on upcoming 5G smartphones.

Lots of studies have been conducted to estimate 5G patents of these domain leaders. We have noticed that most of these studies have been conducted around the list of patents declared to ETSI for 5G specifications, which is not incorrect, per se, but is it exhaustive though?

Could it be said with certainty that the patents declared by companies are truly essential to 5G? Also, there could be even more meat in their portfolio which might have been left out due to oversight or maybe just got lost in the tremendous number of patents in a company’s portfolio.

There could also be individual researchers, research institutes, or tech leaders that have not even declared any patent as a 5G SEP to ETSI or are not even aware of the gold mines they are sitting upon.

Recommended read: Do you know that essentiality of standard essential patents matter too but confirming that essentiality can be a challenge. Here’s a guide that we prepared on confirming how essential a standard-essential patent is.

A one-stop solution for all the problems that I mentioned above boils down to – How can I get an accurate estimate of 5G patents that the companies actually have or what’s exactly the count of truly 5G patents a company has?

What do I mean by truly 5G patents? – You ask? Let me explain.

See, it’s not as simple as you read a patent and it says it’s related to 5G and lo and behold you got yourself a 5G asset. Unless the patent has already been declared a SEP for 5G specifications issued by 3GPP, it boils down to reading the patent in detail and figuring out if the patent is indeed related to 5G enabling tech, which was responsible for the leap from 4G to 5G.

A patent is truly 5G if it is innovated around the 5G enabling technologies. One of those enabling technologies, for instance, is Massive MIMO. If a patent is actually related to Massive MIMO, it could be classified as a truly 5G patent.

How we identify 5G patents in the Client’s patent portfolio?

In the past few months, we have been engaged by a few clients to conduct a study to identify true 5G assets in their portfolio. When conducting these studies, we follow the approach of studying the enabling technologies. This wasn’t something we were used to, but hey, there’s a first time for everything, right? Here’s how we went about dealing with this Goliath challenge.

We first chalked out various 5G enabling technologies or concepts core to 5G. The next step was to hand pick the assets relevant to these core concepts from their portfolio. For this, we prepared a broader search logic framed around various 5G core concepts & terminologies and filtered out a set of patents. Next, we decided to perform manual screening of each of the captured patents to confirm whether the patent’s focus is actually around the 5G concepts or not.

Believe me when I say it – It’s not a cakewalk. Allow me to get into detail on how we decide whether a patent to be relevant/irrelevant during the manual analysis.

I am going to take an example of Network Virtualization which is going to be widely utilized in 5G and have a lot of IP filed in this area. Network Virtualization is not a new concept and has roots before the development started for 5G, and is even being utilized in various domains other than mobile communication.

Therefore, an in-depth analysis needs to be done to check if the concept of virtualization has been described in view of mobile communication technology; only if it does, we consider the patent relevant to 5G. For instance, we only considered a patent to be relevant if it talks about virtualization in the radio access network (EnodeB), core network, etc. If that was not the case, then we considered the patent to be irrelevant, e.g. virtualization in computer, web browser, routers, switches, etc.

Thus, a careful analysis has to be done while deciding whether a patent is truly 5G or not and cannot be merely relied on keyword-based screening.

One conclusion we have reached from performing these studies is that there’s more than what meets the eye. The count of 5G patents that we got is unmatchable to the ones that have been declared to ETSI.

There’s a lot of patents out there, which though not yet declared as SEP are truly 5G patents. There are good chances you might have a few lying around in your portfolio. How to identify those truly 5G patents, you ask?

Well, as the first step, you can look around for patents, which are filed around the 5G enabling technologies. Below we have listed a few of these technologies which could be a good starting point for your analysis.

List of 5G enabling technologies

NFV

The basic idea behind NFV is to decouple software from hardware. With NFV, network operators can deploy various network functions, such as firewall or encryption, on virtual machines (VMs). Whenever a user requests a new network function, the network operator will deploy a VM for the requested function automatically.

Moreover, 5G NFV will allow a physical network to be sliced into various virtual networks capable of supporting multiple radio access networks (RANs) that are customized to meet the needs of each application.

SDN

The main idea behind SDN is to move the control plane away from network hardware and enable external control of the data plane through a logical software entity called a controller.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is a new architecture that allows dynamic reconfiguration of the network. In a traditional network device such as a router, switches contain both the control and data plane. As described above, SDN separates the control and data plane in network entities enabling centralization management of a cellular network.

New radio frequencies

The fundamental difference between 5G and 4G is the use of unique radio frequencies to achieve what 4G networks cannot. 4G networks use frequencies below 6 GHz, but 5G uses extremely high frequencies in the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range.

One of the most important advantages of using higher frequencies is that they support a huge capacity for fast data. Further, they are also highly directional causing no or less interference to nearby users.

However, the super-high frequencies work only if there’s a clear, direct line-of-sight between the antenna and the device receiving the signal. Also, they are easily absorbed by humidity, rain, and other objects, and they don’t travel too far.

For these reasons, we can expect lots of antennas placed strategically to support 5G, maybe a base station would be installed in each room/building.

The air interface defined by 3GPP for 5G is known as New Radio (NR), and the 5G spectrum is divided into two bands, FR1 (<6 GHz) and FR2 (mmWave) each having different capabilities.

We have even conducted a study of patents related to MM wave technology –

How does it matter?

There seems to be a lot of discrepancy between the data revealed by analyzing the declared SEPs and actual studies on true 5G patents. Allow me to elaborate – If we have a look at the stats from patents declared SEPs for MM Wave, we get the following leaders:

 

5G standard essential patents declared by companies

And now, let’s have a look at the actual stats on MM-Wave, including but not limited to the patents declared SEPs:

A few observations:

  • Qualcomm beats Intel if we see the total count, thereby changing the actual top three innovators of the domain.
  • No one is talking about companies like AT&T, Time Warner, IDAC Holdings Inc. as they have not declared SEPs to ETSI.
  • Samsung has only declared 16% SEPs to ETSI. They might either not be aware of the meat that is hidden in their portfolio or there could be other hidden agenda. We don’t know what is the reason but we are sure that there is an incomplete picture out there. We are just trying to fill it bit by bit.

Massive MIMO

MIMO stands for Multiple-input multiple-output and can be essentially boiled down to a single principle: a wireless network that includes transmitting and receiving more than one data signal simultaneously, typically using a separate antenna for the transmitting and receiving of each data signal.

In LTE, MIMO networks tend to use two, four or eight antennas to transmit and receive data. On the other hand, Massive MIMO will utilize a high number of antennas that can range up to as many as 96 to 128 antennas.

Massive MIMO can considerably improve the data capacity and could potentially yield as much as a 50-fold increase in the future. The more antennas the transmitter/receiver is equipped with, the more possible signal paths and the better the performance in terms of data rate and link reliability.

Channel coding

A powerful and flexible channel coding scheme is one of the fundamental components of the NR access technology to meet higher data rates and more diverse requirements of typical NR scenarios including eMBB, mMTC, and URLLC. In 3GPP, various channel coding schemes were considered – convolutional codes, turbo codes, polar codes, and LDPC codes – for evaluation.

Later on, 3GPP adopted Polar Coding for 5G/NR Uplink/Downlink control channel for eMBB. The channel coding techniques for 5G NR have changed from Turbo in 4G to Polar for the control channel and LDPC for the data channel.

We are working on a report where we will be covering how patents in 5G technologies spread across geography, their owners, and more importantly the patents that can become part of standards.

We’ll appreciate your patience while our team is working on some final touch-ups of the report – the most crucial/time taking phase. You can join our VIP waitlist and we’ll be sure to send you the report as soon as we are done with it.

Authored by: Gaurav Sahni, Team Lead, Patent Search, and Aman Kumar, Sr. Research Analyst, Patent Search

Suggested Read: 5G Market Research: What are the top players up to?

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