There Are 250,000 Active Patents That Impact Smartphones; Representing One In Six Active Patents Today

from the patent-thicket dept

A few years back we created a graphic to highlight the ridiculous patent thicket around smartphones. It really just highlights some, though not all, of the litigation concerning patents related to smartphones.
That image is a bit out of date, with some cases settled, others completed, and many more filed, of course. Note the lack of anything between Samsung and Apple for example. But, of course, patents in litigation are just one aspect of a patent thicket. Plenty of patents are used just to demand licensing fees, but are never actually used in litigation. And plenty of patents don't show up in litigation at all, but can still represent part of the problem of the thicket.

A new analysis shows just how insane the patent thicket is today. Done by "defensive" patent aggregator RPX (they try to position themselves as the "good" version of Intellectual Ventures), the estimate is that a stunning250,000 active patents today impact smartphones. 250,000. As the article notes that's one in six active patents today -- and for an industry that is certainly less than 1% of US GDP. As a comparison, the pharma industry, often put forth (inaccurately, in my opinion) as an area where patents make sense, has accounted for a little over 6% of US patents over the past 15 years. Also, there's this:
... in the pharmaceutical industry, there are approximately 46.8 patents per every 1,000 jobs, whereas in the computer and peripherals equipment sector, there are 277.5 patents per 1,000 jobs. Even the semiconductor industry, known for its highly complex products, has a patent/job ratio of 111.6 patents per 1,000 jobs -- approximately 40% the rate of patents to jobs as the computer and peripherals market.
It definitely appears that there's something of a "bubble" going on around smartphone patents -- which is what happens when you have a hot emerging area, combined with ridiculously broad patents. It also makes for an astounding minefield for anyone new who wants to enter the space, especially if you don't have a massive war chest to license or fight in court.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Tim K (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 6:45am

    And probably 90% of those (or more) should never have been granted and should be invalidated.

     

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  2.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    Re:

    I'd risk many of them are software patents. There are virtually infinite variations of code that can achieve the most varied results (or even the same result). I wonder how many of those really refer to innovative and how many are just transformative...

     

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  3.  
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    Atkray (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re:

    If they were just transformative, then no patent would have been awarded. Clearly you don't understand how the patent system works.

    :P

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think you mean "no patent *should* have been awarded".

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:38am

    The article is wrong. There are at least 2M maybe 3M patents today.

     

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  6.  
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    John Doe, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:43am

    This harkens back to the Cornell article

    You posted earlier that Cornell is building a center to encourage innovation. One of the quotes was that the inventor of the next iPhone may come of it. With this many patents in the smartphone realm, it is my guess there will be no new smartphones. If you aren't already a player in that space, good luck becoming one. You will be sued/licensed out of existence before your plans have a chance to come off the whiteboard.

     

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  7.  
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    Below_Average_Joe, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:44am

    Look at all those names. Clearly, Mike, this is more about trademark because I said so and I cant believe you didnt mention it, and I know my shit because I have a certificate that says so. I am so much better than you, me, me , me, I am sooooooo smart.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:45am

    Perhaps there are a lot of patents because (shock) there is a lot of actual innovation in this area, with new ideas, new systems, and new ways of doing things coming out every day?

    "in the pharmaceutical industry, there are approximately 46.8 patents per every 1,000 jobs, whereas in the computer and peripherals equipment sector, there are 277.5 patents per 1,000 jobs. Even the semiconductor industry, known for its highly complex products, has a patent/job ratio of 111.6 patents per 1,000 jobs -- approximately 40% the rate of patents to jobs as the computer and peripherals market."

    A nicely misleading series of stats, because it leaves out the key: how long the business has been around. Pharma is ancient, semi conductors go back to the 50s, and cell phones go back about 30 years... and smart phone less than a decade - which means that 100% of the patents in the smart phone area would be active at this point.

    There are also a number of companies absolutely pouring money and resources into R&D.

    The number of patents doesn't suggest over broad patents, rather it suggests a large number of very narrowly focused patents. I suspect many of them are variations on a given patent. Given that there are a number of different cellular systems, data transmission methods, and the like. Many of those patents are likely replicated to cover operating with different systems.

    I just think that it's easy to go "wow, 250,000". Really, you should be going "wow, thousands of new products released every year". Innovation rules!

     

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  9.  
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    Below_Average_Joe, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:54am

    Re:

    Do we know you? I think we do.

     

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  10.  
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    Tim K (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    Yeah, cause the patents that Apple is using to sue people over are brand new and innovative, and not overly broad at all. I mean slide to unlock?! holy crap, where do they come up with this. Bouncing screen animations, Open as, those guys are brilliant

     

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  11.  
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    Below_Average_Joe, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 8:59am

    Re: Re:

    "The number of patents doesn't suggest over broad patents, rather it suggests a large number of very narrowly focused patents."

    Citation needed.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:08am

    Re:

    "The number of patents doesn't suggest over broad patents, rather it suggests a large number of very narrowly focused patents. I suspect many of them are variations on a given patent. Given that there are a number of different cellular systems, data transmission methods, and the like. Many of those patents are likely replicated to cover operating with different systems."

    That's stupid. A patent describes a method of doing something. Minute variations on a patent that are prompted by the idiosyncrasies of the an arbitrarily chosen platform/technology should not be patentable.

    Example: just because I discovered how to make a car run on water, that doesn't mean that I should be able to patent a method of making a motorcycle run on water: they use the SAME technology, with minuscule adaptation to fit the form factor.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah, I have trouble understanding insanity lol

     

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  14.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:26am

    Re:

    I just think that it's easy to go "wow, 250,000". Really, you should be going "wow, thousands of new products released every year". Innovation rules!

    After the 1 download = 1 lost sale bogus assumption now we have 1 patent = 1 new product assumption. Sounds right.

    It also makes for an astounding minefield for anyone new who wants to enter the space, especially if you don't have a massive war chest to license or fight in court.

    We have plenty of examples of patents crushing the starters ;)

     

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  15.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:26am

    BUT the whole field just keeps growing!

    IF patents are so bad, how do you explain that? -- I'm sure you'll just ignore the correlation, as doesn't fit your mania.

    My solution is the usual plain and simple brute force: I'd do away with trivial patents by requiring a physical model (NO software patents, then) and having a (trained) monkey (or a committe of such) glance at them and immediately discard those which are obviously trivial, never to be raised again in appeal, nor fee refunded.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re:

    ofcourse everyone here knows that a patent is a METHOD of doing something, and not the thing itself, I can patent a method of making cheese, does not mean I have a patent on cheese, just a way to make it.

    there would be many methods of achieving something with software, the problem occures when the people making a product dont bother to work out their own method to achieve somthing, so they just use your method of making cheese, instead of developing their own method.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re:

    There are are certain to be duplicates and near duplicates as it is beyond the ability of any reasonable number of people to examine all relevant patents when applying for their own. Further the patent office cannot carry out a thorough search of possibly relevant patents to prevent this.

     

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  18.  
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    Christopher Best (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:37am

    Re: Re: Re:

    ofcourse everyone here knows that a patent is a METHOD of doing something,

    And method patents shouldn't exist, especially not the particularly tortured interpretation of them currently in force in the United States...

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:40am

    Re: BUT the whole field just keeps growing!

    I'm not sure what you're trying to do here. Is ootb actually suggesting compromise?

     

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  20.  
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    Christopher Best (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:42am

    Re:

    Perhaps there are a lot of patents because (shock) there is a lot of actual innovation in this area, with new ideas, new systems, and new ways of doing things coming out every day?

    Considering patents are currently being granted something like five years after being filed, no, I don't think this has anything to do with the current state of "innovation" in the market and everything to do with the amount of leverage that comes with a large patent portfolio. Leverage you can exert over (actual or potential) competitors.

    Also, have you seen these patents? They're laughable. None of them are covering anything non-obvious or innovative, and often in fact are covering things that were already extant years before the patent application was filed.

    Also, the only real source of "innovation" (and I use the term very loosely, here, as most of these "innovations" are just obvious extensions on existing concepts) on the software side of the smartphone industry right now doesn't actively seek patent protection for their "innovations"...

     

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  21.  
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    Donglebert the Needlessly Obtuse, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:48am

    Re: Re:

    And I still don't know why the "Rubber Band Patent" isn't instantly invalidated by having both prior art and obviousness in its nickname.

     

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  22.  
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    Tim K (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:51am

    Re: BUT the whole field just keeps growing!

    Nobody said it was completely stopping innovation. We have said several times that they are slowing/hindering innovation. How much faster would it grow if they spent more money on innovating than on lawsuits? How many more startups would be successful if they didn't have to worry about being sued out of existence because of the cost, not because of a valid claim.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 9:55am

    Re:

    Mobile phone patents are also relevant to the smart ohone market. Impact doe not mean only smart phone specific patents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:11am

    Re:

    Yep this is ridiculous. But its what happens when the government caves to the patents as the end all be all.

     

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  25.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:20am

    Re: BUT the whole field just keeps growing!

    My solution is the usual plain and simple brute force: I'd do away with trivial patents by requiring a physical model (NO software patents, then) and having a (trained) monkey (or a committe of such) glance at them and immediately discard those which are obviously trivial, never to be raised again in appeal, nor fee refunded.

    The 'prototype' could solve shitloads of problems yes but it'd still leave gaps (independent invention, how startups could face the deep pockets of the bigger companies etc). Still, that's a remarkably sane and productive comment if we ignore the first part.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:32am

    Re:

    Instead of "wow, 250,000", I would ask what data underlies this number and applicable cites, as well as how many of these are directed specifically to "smart phones", and not generic inventions that cut across a multitude of diverse industries? Experience informs me that the number will whittle down quite fast to a much, much lower number.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re:

    "After the 1 download = 1 lost sale bogus assumption now we have 1 patent = 1 new product assumption. Sounds right."

    Wow, you suck at math. 250,000 patents, 1000s of new phones. There is no 1 to 1 relationship.

    Another stupid comment from Mike's toady.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    snowburn14, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 11:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Sarcasm. Look it up. Either you're unable to pick up on it, or have a really poor presentation of your own.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 12:20pm

    Re: BUT the whole field just keeps growing!

    Saying that growth in the sale of smartphones proves that patents are bad for the industry is like saying drug sales prove that prohibition isn't bad for the drug industry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 2:36pm

    Isn't there an arrow or two missing between Apple and Samsung? =P

     

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  31.  
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    Brian, Oct 18th, 2012 @ 4:53pm

    http://www.ipvideocontest.com

    Unfortunately, the inculcation of America's youth with the fallacy of patents,... sigh:

    http://www.ipvideocontest.com

     

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  32.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 18th, 2012 @ 7:57pm

    Re:

    Which is irrelevant, as the article is only talking about patents affecting smartphones, and not the number of patents overall.

    In the future, at least read the title of the article before commenting please.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Oct 19th, 2012 @ 11:12am

    Re:

    "Perhaps there are a lot of patents because (shock) there is a lot of actual innovation in this area, with new ideas, new systems, and new ways of doing things coming out every day?"

    Sure, but a lot of the patents in the smartphone space are just obvious, and follow even a robotic algorithm:

    1) Take something done on computers over networks
    2) Design method to do same thing on computers over wireless networks
    3) Patent the method, and sue.
    4) Kaching $

    Poster child for above, NTP. But the same can be said for mobile search, mobile advertising, mobile video streaming, etc, etc. There's patents for all this stuff, even though it is completely obvious that all stuff done on computer networks should be tried on mobile networks too.

    Each of these comprises a "new way of doing things" as you mention, and each adds value to society. But almost none is inventive or worthy of granting a monopoly.

     

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  34.  
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    staff, Oct 19th, 2012 @ 1:16pm

    another biased article

    patent thicket?? Nonsense!

    If you were a real reporter, which you are not, you would do your homework and find that the vast majority of the inventions those patents cover are used by...no one. This is just more dissembling by invention thieves trying to justify their corporate greed.

    Masnick and his monkeys have an unreported conflict of interest-
    https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php?n=10&pg=1

    They sell blog filler and "insights" to major corporations including MS, HP, IBM etc. who just happen to be some of the worldís most frequent patent suit defendants. Obviously, he has failed to report his conflicts as any reputable reporter would. But then Masnick and his monkeys are not reporters. They are hacks representing themselves as legitimate journalists receiving funding from huge corporate infringers. They cannot be trusted and have no credibility. All they know about patents is they donít have any.

    http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html#pt.

     

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  35.  
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    Vic Kley, Oct 19th, 2012 @ 3:39pm

    Take your thicket and stick it!

    I'd tell you how a useful plan related to licensing and infringement is done but in the spirit of NO-PATENTS I won't say a thing. It's my trade secret and you know it really is!

    All you get to see is the result of my using my useful chart and planner without having any idea (well actually I'll just end the sentence there for this Blog has certainly earned the NULL word).

    Trade Secret, no maintenance fees! No time limit. No courts and no attorneys. Nobody even knows it exists.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    staff, Oct 19th, 2012 @ 4:27pm

    what do you know about patents?

    No patents?? Well at least we can still make Stradivarius violins. Oh that's right, HE NEVER TOLD ANYONE HOW TO MAKE THEM!!

    No patents? Brilliant idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    nasch (profile), Oct 19th, 2012 @ 5:21pm

    Re: Re:

    The relevant number is how many would be likely to affect someone trying to develop a smartphone. It doesn't matter if the word "phone" appears in the patent.

     

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  38.  
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    johnslaw (profile), Nov 4th, 2012 @ 9:06am

    Patents are hindrance to progress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Benjamin Gibert, Nov 8th, 2012 @ 3:33am

    Patent thickets

    Great article and sad to think that it's come to this point. It seems like patents are playing as much a role in stifling the diffusion of technology as they are in promoting it. Begs some interesting questions about the way the goals of the IP system have been twisted over the years. Have a look at this and let me know what you think: http://theriskyshift.com/2012/11/three-facts-you-should-know-about-intellectual-property/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Peter, Nov 14th, 2012 @ 6:09am

    it's just business

    So now all patent trolls are aware of how big their competition really is?

    Kill software patents! Competition is good for innivation, and patents kill innovation. If you want to make money quickly, immitation is the way to go anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Peter, Nov 14th, 2012 @ 6:10am

    Re: it's just business

    of course I meant innovation...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 6th, 2012 @ 6:00am

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    wiredworx (profile), Feb 13th, 2013 @ 1:26am

    affordable press release service

    Useful...!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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