“[F]or these groundbreaking technologies to reach users, researchers on the front lines of innovation must have incentives to spend their time and resources on mobile standards. This is how licensing helps drive new technologies.
The other week at Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles, innovators and thought leaders from around the world gathered to discuss groundbreaking technology advancements in many key industries, including 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) services. At MWC, various companies like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have announced the rollout of 5G commercial services. This is an incredible validation of the work that has gone into 5G development, and to see this hard work reflected in market-ready products and services is very satisfying, as it was for previous generations like LTE. I recall we demonstrated working 5G capabilities as early as 2013 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Amid all the talk of 5G, however, there has also been discussion around the national “race to 5G.” It is evident that 5G will play a critical role to many people around the world. And that is normal as developing this technology was a global effort led by the United States, Europe, China, South Korea, and other countries. Unlike the minor upgrades to phones that come out every year, developing mobile standards like 3G, 4G LTE and now 5G require collaboration from physicists, electrical engineers, and other researchers around the world.
These standards are highly technical in nature and offer specific information on everything from the chips that go in your phones to the cell tower infrastructure needed to speedily and safely relay your tweets and selfies to your followers around the globe. The only way technological advances like this happen are through millions of hours of work by scientists theorizing and testing hundreds of different ways to accomplish the goal of increased speed, better energy efficiency, while being incredibly safe and secure.
These improvements set the stage for the next generation of autonomous vehicles, internet of things devices, and yes, your next smartphone. But standards-based improvements can be seen outside top of the line mobile devices and cars – they also enable the internet and the benefits the internet affords to reach new places. This can mean bringing high-speed internet to rural areas in the U.S. and first-time internet access in developing countries – bringing a tool that boosts job prospects, economic mobility, and opens the door to a wealth of information and connectivity that wouldn’t otherwise be economically feasible.
But for these groundbreaking technologies to reach users, researchers on the front lines of innovation must have incentives to spend their time and resources on mobile standards. This is how licensing helps drive new technologies.
Every time you buy a new smart phone or other device, the company that manufactured that device pays a small amount to use the technology they did not develop. Whereas every year you get a new smartphone with an upgraded camera or processor, standards change seldomly simply because of the amount of work required by highly-specialized scientists to make an improvement. And not only do these new standards need to be reliable and seamless, they must also be interoperable with other devices that may be on previous standards.
Hardware manufacturers therefore partner with companies like InterDigital to bring improvements like 5G to market, making the science of bringing the latest in mobile phone technology so simple that by 2025, 25 billion devices will live online. This model has proven successful, with standards-based technology improving by leaps and bounds over the past 40 years – going from a measly 64kb/s in mobile connectivity speeds to now well over 1Gb/s.
However, as standards development continues to become a global endeavor, strong intellectual property protections are needed now more than ever. If companies and researchers do not have a way to protect the investments they made in their innovations, technological progress will slow. Protecting this IP means securing a portion of a $1.2 trillion industry and the 29 million jobs created directly and indirectly by the mobile connectivity ecosystem.
As companies like InterDigital contribute to finalizing the new 5G standard, actions by the Trump Administration to decrease IP theft from China, as well as new policies from the USPTO, are building confidence to encourage investment by U.S. companies that will lead to the development of exciting future technologies. Through smart policy-making and an understanding of the value of these technologies and the standardization process, the U.S. will continue to be a hub for innovation and economy will continue to grow stronger.