Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Is China the Global 5G Leader?

Patent counting is often used as the metric to determine a company’s contribution to innovation. However, quantifying this leadership may give a misleading picture in determining who is leading the way. Having a lot of patents is impressive, but a patent is sometimes more about the resources that a company dedicates to the process of filing patents than it does to the value and impact of those patents.

Many reports on 5G patents show that Chinese companies have the most 5G patents, leaving the impression that China is ahead of the game. But a closer examination of the data finds that this may not be true.

Courtesy of Bird & Bird

A simple count of patent declarations assumes that all patents are of equal value. When counting declarations, applying the essentiality filter used in the seminal Unwired Planet v Huawei case in the English High Court reverses the view that Chinese companies are leading the 5G patent race.

IAM media

The figure above shows Ericsson, Samsung and Qualcomm taking the top spots when an essentiality filter is applied.

Patent Sight by LexisNexis has also developed a unique methodology that considers the importance of the patent in the hierarchy of the technologies, its geographical coverage, and other parameters to provide a score called the Patent Asset Index. While many companies cluster in their patent portfolio size or number of patents, Qualcomm leads the pack in value and impact based on Patent Asset Index.

Patent Sight

If we look at the portfolio size, the number of patents declared between Qualcomm, Huawei, Intel (now Apple), and Samsung are close. However, when it comes to value, Qualcomm is considerably higher than the next competitor.

The number of patents a company declares does not necessarily reflect the value or contribution of these patents. Not only for 5G, but there are companies that try to demonstrate their contribution to certain technologies based on the number of patents, and that is a mistake.

This article is not intended to provide a conclusion on which company is leading 5G development, but to show the sensitivity of ranking based on different assumptions and parameters. So, one could say that others not Huawei leads the race on 5G, but politics will suggest otherwise.


1.     Matthew Noble, Jane Mutimear and Richard Vary, Determining which companies are leading the 5G race, July/Aug 2019, www.IAM-media.com
2.     Christina Petersson, Why you shouldn’t believe everything you read about 5G patents, 11 Oct 2019, www.ericsson.com
3.     Patrick Moorhead, Why 5G Patent ‘Value’ Is More Important Than The ‘Number’ Of Patents, 27 Feb 2020, www.forbes.com

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