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Ericsson just reached 6,000 5G patent declarations – but that's not the best way to assess our patent strength

5G is changing the way we live, but this technology wasn’t invented overnight. Many different companies and inventors contributed individual breakthroughs and new ideas which, when put together, becomes a unified standard of communication greater than the sum of its parts.
5G Transport portfolio—rooftop macro site in Frankfurt

JUNE 19, 2024. In the virtuous cycle of innovation, a strong patent system helps ensure those companies and inventors are incentivized to continue investing in research and development and inventing the groundbreaking technologies that move us forward in developing mobile standards for 5G, as well as 6G and beyond. Analyzing and categorizing those patents can help us understand patent leadership.

Ericsson has been leading the charge on 5G since its beginning and has now made 6,000 5G patent declarations. Patent declarations are a metric used by some media to identify the companies that have leading patent portfolios – but should they be?

As I’ve written in the past, we at Ericsson believe there are better ways to assess a company’s patent portfolio to determine true leadership.

Evaluating claim charts rather than counting mere self-declarations

Not all patents are equal, and not all companies’ declared patents are actually essential. Frankly, one reason patent declarations have been used by some media in evaluating patent portfolios is that it’s a simple, easy to understand, statistic. But a more rigorous approach is called for if we want to truly understand who the strongest 5G patent owner is.

When we talk about patent declarations, we’re referring to the number of patents a company has self-declared as potentially essential to the standard. It should be relatively obvious why that’s a flawed metric – simply “declaring” one’s patent as potentially essential doesn’t make it essential. Below is a chart with a 5G declaration landscape listing the shares of patent families declared uniquely to 5G. We count those inventions made since the start of the 5G standard development in 2016 and focus on families who have a US or European family member. Unfortunately, like all similar 5G declaration landscapes, the rankings don’t reflect actually essential 5G patent families, but rather what each company self-declares is potentially essential according to its own subjective criteria.

Declared 5G patent families, with a US or EP member, invented 2016 or later

Based upon information from

Rather than promote self-declared 5G numbers, companies should provide numbers of actually essential 5G patent families and back them up with rigorously prepared claim charts.  Claim charts assess a patent claim-by-claim and offer technical details on how a patent reads on the standard. These charts offer transparency into the reasons a company thinks a patent is essential. In fact, these charts are exchanged during licensing negotiations because they are a much more rigorous and meaningful tool for assessing the strength of a patent portfolio overall. With rigorously prepared claim charts, companies get credit for what they can show is actually essential to 5G. They don’t get credit just because they’ve declared a patent is potentially essential, with nothing to back up their claim.

As I’ve previously written, some analysts have attempted to apply more rigor in their approaches to calculating 5G patent shares. For example, former Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO, Robert Stoll, has published on the importance of focusing on what’s actually essential. When performing his analysis on declarations and applying an essentiality filter, he found that Ericsson was the clear leader.

Source: Analysis by Robert Stoll, Faegre Drinker. Former USPTO Patent Commissioner. Based on data from Bird & Bird.

Measuring meaningful contributions to the standard as a cross-check

Another approach, which can be used as a cross-check on rigorously prepared claim charts, is to determine how much a company has contributed to the 5G standard. This approach builds on the assumption that the strength of a 5G patent portfolio will reflect the impact its owner had on the development of the 5G standard.

Comparison of approved versus submitted contributions for 5G
Comparison of approved contributions versus submitted in RAN1 and RAN2, for 5G through the end of 2023.

In an analysis of 5G patent leadership, quality trumps quantity. With a process that puts the onus on companies to back up their self-declarations with rigorously created claim charts, the industry will be better equipped to understand the patent leadership landscape, and ultimately reward the inventors fueling 5G to incentivize them to continue investing in the next big thing.

Christina Petersson
Head of IPR and Licensing