China tops the world in 5G patent filings, but grant rates are modest

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IP change in China

Chinese companies have filed one-third of essential patents related to 5G technology, according to a report by state-run media on Sunday, a signal that the country is pushing to the forefront in the race for dominance in next-generation wireless networks.

Why it matters: The news shows that China’s efforts to dominate in 5G technology are beginning to pay off despite an ongoing US crackdown on Chinese communications companies such as Huawei and ZTE.

  • The rise of Chinese-owned 5G patents also marks a clear change from the 3G and 4G eras when most related essential patents were controlled by American and European companies.

“In 4G, the situation was very much the Chinese players having to pay royalties to license these patents from the Western companies… Now that the Chinese companies own such a significant share of the patents, the Western companies need to pay to license from them.”

—Edison Lee, a telecom analyst at Jefferies in Hong Kong, to the Wall Street Journal in February

Details: Chinese companies have accounted for 34% of worldwide standard essential patent applications for 5G communication systems, ranking the country first in global patent applications, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily (in Chinese) reported Sunday.

  • The announcement was made during the World 5G Conference, a government-led communications summit which ran from Wednesday through Saturday, the report said without citing a source.
  • Chinese firms have filed 13,000 standard essential patents for 5G as of March, of which 20% were filed by Huawei, said the report, citing data from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Economy and Information Technology.

Context: While Chinese firms have filed the highest number of 5G-related patents, they may not necessarily be the biggest 5G patent owners, according to a report by data analytics firm IPlytics.

  • While Huawei has filed for the highest number of 5G patent families—a collection of patents owned by a company to protect a single invention—South Korea’s Samsung owns the largest 5G patent portfolio as of November, said the report.
  • Huawei declared a total of 3,325 5G patent families as of November of which 1,337 had been granted to the company, while Samsung has been granted 1,746 out of 2,846 applications.
  • Other Chinese players have very low 5G patent grant rates from at least one patent office, said IPlytics, including ZTE with 7.4% of its patent applications granted, China Academy of Telecommunications Technology with 11.7%, and Vivo with none.
  • IPlytics expects many non-granted patents to be approved eventually, however. “The granting process may take several years since 5G is a recent technology,” the report said. “One can assume that many of the declared 5G patents will be granted at some point in the future.”

Chinese firms should focus on ‘quality’ patents: IP expert

Updated: Added information about China’s prospects for eventually receiving approval for many of its 5G patents.