Watch out Apple: Samsung, Qualcomm positioned to dominate LTE patent wars

Although most smartphone patent disputes so far have revolved around mobile operating systems, you can expect a lot more suits to focus on LTE technologies in coming months.

A report released Thursday by iRunway, a research firm that specializes in technology patent portfolios and litigation analysis, has found that Samsung and Qualcomm are far and away the top dogs when it comes to holding critical LTE patents and are well-positioned to file suits against several big-name companies, including Apple, who have lesser patent portfolios in the LTE space.

IRunway conducted its study by looking not just at the total number of LTE patents held by several firms, but also the number of “seminal” LTE patents that each company holds. The firm uses a number of criteria to determine what constitutes a seminal LTE patent, including its age, its infringement detectability, the rate at which its technology is used by other firms, and backward and forward references.

The study found that Samsung held a total of 79 seminal LTE patents, or roughly 12.15% of all 650 such patents, while Qualcomm held 81, or roughly 12.46% of all seminal patents. By comparison, Intel was the next-highest holder of seminal LTE patents, with its 36, accounting for 5.54% of all seminal patents.

Samsung and Qualcomm hold a similarly dominant space in terms of overall LTE patent holdings, iRunway found, as Samsung held 9.36% and Qualcomm held 5.65%.

The vast majority of LTE patents related to either technology designed to improve data transfer rate or spectral efficiency on LTE networks and devices. Once again, Samsung holds the most total patents in both categories, with 678 patents related to spectral efficiency and 451 related to data transfer rate. Qualcomm holds the second-largest number of patents in both categories, with 424 patents related to spectral efficiency and 260 related to data transfer rate.

What this all means is that Samsung and Qualcomm are most likely to be the aggressors in patent suits involving LTE technology over the next year.

“All of the companies making handsets will want to stay away from Samsung,” says iRunway chief solutioning officer Animesh Kumar. “Samsung can get aggressive and start hitting all these guys.”

One company that could be particularly vulnerable to LTE patent suits is Apple, which has been one of the most aggressive litigants in suing manufacturers of devices based on Google’s Android operating system. According to iRunway, Apple has “minimal patents in the 4G-LTE domain,” even after the company successfully outbid Google for Nortel’s patent portfolio last year by joining forces with Ericsson, RIM, Microsoft and EMC. IRunway notes that the Nortel portfolio only includes around 150 total patents that relate to data transfer and spectral efficiency technologies, meaning that Apple could still be vulnerable to Samsung and Qualcomm even if it held complete ownership of the patents.


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