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South Korea and the U.S. Chasing China in 5G Patent Race
China Accounts for One Third of 5G Patents
South Korea and the U.S. Chasing China in 5G Patent Race
  • By Kim Eun-jin
  • January 2, 2020, 08:56
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China is leading the race to develop 5G technologies.

With the 5G market starting to take off all over the world, a patent race for leadership in the 5G market is intensifying. South Korea, which launched commercial 5G services for the first time in the world last year, and other major developed nations including China, the United States and Japan, are making efforts to win more patents and standard essential patents (SEPs) related to 5G technology.

Especially China included 5G in the 10 high-tech industries that will be promoted under the “Made in China 2025” initiative. Based on such strong political support on the national level, China is making aggressive efforts to win the 5G patent race. It already accounts for one third of worldwide 5G-related patent applications.

China held 34 percent of SEP applications for 5G technology as of March 2019, according to IPlytics, a German company that tracks intellectual property. The figure is over one and a half times as high as that of China’s SEP applications for 4G. This shows that, armed with massive funding and a long-term strategy initiated by the government, China has become more likely to lead the development of 5G technologies and secure competitive advantages in all kinds of 5G services.

In the 3G and 4G eras, the global communication market was led by the United States and Europe, which held most of key patents. However, in the 5G era, they are losing the race to China.

Indeed, the United States accounted for 14 percent of SEPs for 5G, down 2 percentage points from its share for 4G. Korea ranked second with 25.2 percent, up 2 percentage points from its 4G share. Korea is followed by Finland (13.8 percent), the United States (13.5 percent), Sweden (7.9 percent) and Japan (4.9 percent).

Despite the U.S. movement to keep Chinese companies in check, Huawei, a representative Chinese IT company, took the top spot with 15 percent of SEPs, followed by the Finnish company Nokia (13.8 percent), Samsung Electronics (12.7 percent), LG Electronics (12.3 percent) and China’s ZTE (11.7 percent). Qualcomm, a U.S. company which holds a commanding lead in the smartphone chip market, and Intel, the strong U.S. contender in the PC chip market, held 8.2 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively, taking the 6th and 8th spot.

As Huawei is investing US$2 billion in developing 5G technologies, filing more 5G-related patents, the gap between Huawei and other companies is expected to grow.

The United States announced a 5G initiative in April last year amid its trade war against China. Based on the government’s bold support and private-sector investment, the United States is moving to become a global leader in 5G technology. Major U.S. telecommunication companies are expanding 5G services to the entire nation.

Japan is set to launch commercial 5G services in the first half of this year. It is accelerating its efforts to develop semiconductors and systems to be loaded in 5G-related products and services.

Korea is emerging as a “first mover” in providing various 5G convergence services, such as ultra-high definition (UHD) images, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and immersive services. Korean 5G carriers are cooperating with global IT companies to develop new services.