USPTO Analysis of Patent Filings Finds No Single Company is Leading 5G Technology Development

“By assessing the issue of 5G patenting activity from a host of new perspectives, this report casts a wider net and provides more information than previous patent studies in evaluating 5G competitiveness.”

Earlier this week, the USPTO released a report canvassing the current state of 5G technology attempting to “attain an informed understanding of the global competitiveness and economic vulnerabilities of United States 5G manufacturers and suppliers.” At the outset, the report noted that many other studies have been done to identify market leaders but have come to differing conclusions. The USPTO noted that “[g]iven differing outcomes in prior studies, this report examines multiple data sets using different methodologies, with a focus on the types of patent families and patent attributes that economists associate with greater significance or economic value.”


By analyzing global patent families (patent applications that are filed in multiple jurisdictions claiming the same subject matter), rather than counting individual patents, the USPTO hoped to avoid overestimating a company’s contribution to the industry. However, the USPTO noted that if a company opts not to file patent applications outside of their home country, the analysis of global patent families may be misleading.

To account for this, the USPTO also examined “triadic” patent families. The Office utilized the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) definition of “triadic” patent families as those with “at least one patent application filed with, or patent granted by, each of the USPTO, the European Patent Office, and the Japan Patent Office.” The OECD has explained that using triadic patent families improves comparability because only patents applied for in the set of countries are included. Additionally, triadic patent families are considered to be of greater value due to the maintenance cost the patentee must pay. According to the OECD, if the technology were not worth protecting companies would not spend the amount of money required to protect the technology in these countries.

Technical Standards

While companies continue to innovate, organizations are attempting to implement 5G industry standards. By implementing a common technical standard, companies may seamlessly use their equipment with that made by other manufacturers, the USPTO explained. Development of 5G standards has been done under the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). This partnership project is a standards development organization with seven “organizational partners.” To promote a fair use of technology, rules for the standard development process were established by the 3GPP. One organizational partner, The European Standards Institute (ETSI), requires members submitting technical proposals to identify intellectual property that may be essential if the proposal is adopted.

Industry Leaders

In Figure 1 below, the USPTO compared worldwide and triadic family filings of ETSI-declared 5G patent filings by the top seven companies in the industry: Qualcomm, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, LG and ZTE. As Figure 1 shows, Huawei leads LG and Qualcomm by 12% and 25% respectively in the number of ETSI-declared 5G patent families worldwide. However, an examination of triadic family filings paints Qualcomm as the most active filer of 5G, with more than 30% more filings than its next closest competitor, Samsung. The USPTO recognized that both bodies of data should be considered when discerning market leaders, since triadic families may be considered more valuable, and different companies lead in worldwide patent filings than in triadic patent filings.


The USPTO also analyzed the competitive advantage of patent portfolios in the 5G space by focusing on four key technology areas. The four technology areas articulated by the USPTO include: (1) Management of Local Wireless Resources, (2) Multiple Use of Transmission Path, (3) Radio Transmission Systems, and Information Error Detection or Error Correction in Transmission Systems. This analysis, the USPTO explained, shifts the focus from the number of patent filings to their significance.

The findings in Table 1 below show that “in selected 5G technologies, no company emerges as the clear leader.” While LG was the most active filer in the categories of Management of Local Wireless Resources, Radio Transmission Systems, and Multiple Use of Transmission Path, Qualcomm was the leader in Information Error Detection. Huawei trails LG, Samsung and Qualcomm in both patent families and patents or patent application filing activity.

The USPTO also analyzed the patent filings using criteria developed by economists to determine innovative activity as a marker of competitiveness. The criteria used by the Office to analyze the patent portfolios included market coverage, technical relevance, radicalness, legal breadth, and scope. As can be seen in Figures 2 and 3, Qualcomm’s patent portfolio ranks first according to value, followed by Ericsson and Nokia.

The USPTO explained that “[b]y assessing the issue of 5G patenting activity from a host of new perspectives, this report casts a wider net and provides more information than previous patent studies in evaluating 5G competitiveness.” The report concluded that while there appear to be several firms competing for market dominance, there is no single company that is winning the 5G technology race.






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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for MaxDrei]
    February 20, 2022 06:17 am

    With regard to the USPTO 5-factor assessment of value, what is the difference between the factor “Scope” and the factor “Legal Breadth”?

    Clearly they are not the same thing because Qualcomm has the same “scope” as everybody else, just a lot more “legal breadth” than any of the others? How come?