Race for Ace Continues in 4G LTE Patentscape

From LTE to LTE-Advanced Pro, the telecom industry has focused on enhancing user experience with high data speeds and reduced latency. LTE-Advanced Pro includes features such as Enhanced Carrier Aggregation, Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), Full Dimension MIMO (FD-MIMO), and aggregation of small and macro cells through dual connectivity. These together help achieve speeds of around 3Gbps with a latency of less than 2 milliseconds. Constant improvement in user experience in wireless communication is an outcome of relentless R&D efforts by industry stalwarts, which is mirrored in the patent landscape of 4G-LTE technology as well.

As per iRunway’s latest research report on the 4G-LTE U.S. Patent Landscape, Qualcomm dominates with the highest number of IP assets, facing close competition from LG Electronics. Patenting activity in the U.S. 4G-LTE space has been very competing since its inception, attracting newer players over the years. Take for instance the case of LG Electronics. The Korean company entered the 4G-LTE race fairly late in 2008; however, today the company leads in patent holdings in notable technologies such as Carrier Aggregation and LTE Relay nodes. Qualcomm is the leader in MIMO, Beamforming and HetNet. A major shift in patenting activity in the U.S. 4G-LTE space was from Huawei. Between 2014 and 2016, Huawei scaled up its R&D in 4G-LTE to figure among the top 10 patent portfolio owners in the U.S. iRunway’s analysis attributes this to Huawei’s massive in-house R&D focus.

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4G-LTE U.S. Patent Landscape – 2016 Update –> Purchase Now

This latest iRunway Research report maps changes in the patent filing trend in 4G-LTE technologies in the U.S. region over the last two years, vis-a-vis trends prior to 2014. For insights, click here.


Asian telecom major Panasonic, which was at the eighth spot in 2014, doesn’t feature in the top 10 patent assignees in the U.S. 4G-LTE IP landscape. This may be attributed to high market speculations about its shift of focus to enterprise systems and away from consumer electronics.

Leaders in Standard Essential Patents

Between 2015-16, Samsung and Ericsson declared the highest number of 4G-LTE U.S. patents as essential to telecom standards as suggested by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Samsung, Ericsson, LG Electronics, Nokia and Qualcomm are among the top five owners of granted SEPs in the U.S. 4G-LTE patent landscape.

Top 5 SEP declarants in 2015-16

Top 5 SEP Declarants in 2015-16

As per iRunway’s research, Samsung has declared the maximum number of IP assets as standard essential, with a significant contribution in recent years towards standardizing features such as Mission Critical Push To Talk (MCPTT) mentioned in Release13. In fact, Samsung is the world’s first public safety LTE (PS-LTE) end-to-end solution provider.

On the other hand, Huawei’s patent portfolio in the U.S. 4G-LTE space indicates an interesting trend. It has invested significantly in in-house R&D to develop CoMP Transmission, LTE Relay and HARQ technologies. Huawei recently filed infringement cases against Samsung in the U.S. and China over its LTE SEPs, and against T-Mobile in the U.S. Alphabet Inc. also entered the list of leading SEP declarers in this space, following its acquisition of Motorola.

iRunway’s study found InterDigital owning a strong portfolio of patents with high potential for monetization. It owns a significant percentage of SEPs and Seminal patents, making it a major player in the IP licensing market with an impressive line-up of high profile licensees for its 4G-LTE portfolio, including NEC Corporation, Huawei, Sharp, Samsung and Sony.

LTE Evolution & Enhancements towards 5G

The volatile wireless industry is dominated by a few early players. However, evolution of new technologies such as 5G and cellular IoT might bring out significant changes in the IP leadership. Many players might benefit by their leadership in key technologies such as MIMO, Beamforming and Self Organizing Networks (SON) which are expected to evolve to capitalize on the 5G wave.

Patent filing trend in key 4G-LTE technologies in the U.S. patent landscape. iRunway analysis.

Patent filing trend in key 4G-LTE technologies in the U.S. patent landscape.
iRunway analysis.

The evolution of MIMO towards Massive MIMO, such as FD–MIMO and its support in Release 13 is an outcome of consistent research. This is also evident from patenting activity in the recent past. Similarly, Carrier Aggregation is evolving towards its higher order variants such as 4x CA which is being leveraged by-products such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X16 LTE Modem. In fact, this technology is expected to witness a sharp increase in patent filings in the coming years. SON and Beamforming are also evolving to support next-generation technologies such as 5G SON and Massive Beamforming for 5G radio access.

Competition for IP leadership in the U.S. 4G-LTE space is in top gear. The industry is poised for a paradigm shift towards a connected future. 3GPP has already included NB-IoT (Narrow Band IoT) and MTC (Machine Type Communication) in Release 13 (LTE Advanced Pro) with a vision towards a connected future. The 4G-LTE patent landscape is destined to witness interesting trends towards this connected world in the coming years, while the race for ace continues.

(Featured image is for representational purpose alone. Image has been sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Connectworld.jpg)

Nikesh Dodwani
Nikesh Dodwani

Nikesh is a strategy analyst with an expertise in technology evolution trends, patent holdings and assessment of IP strengths of patent holders. He works on high-profile technology litigation and licensing programs, helping attorneys and clients find crucial infringement evidence. Nikesh is a co-author of the 4G-LTE U.S. Patent Landscape - 2016 Update iRunway research report.

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