The advances and increasing popularity of Internet technology have given rise to the new field of the Internet of Things (IoT), a field that integrates different technologiessuch as sensor technology, mobile communication, cloud computingand big data analysis. The IoT is a network that connects multiple objects. The application of IoT is far-reaching, including medical care, transportation, logistics, smart home appliances and property management. As IoT technology grows rapidly, it will gradually change people’s lifestyle and consumption habits.
In recent years, IoT technology has flourished throughout the world as Internet technology continues to grow. Since the development of IoT technology will gradually affect people’s day-to-day activities, large corporations are investing in the research and development of this technology. Patent offices in various countries have already noticed this trend. In 2016, the Japan Patent Office even announced the addition of a new patent category for IoT inventions.
The Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom (UKIPO) published an IoT patent report in 2014 indicating, among others, the International Patent Classification (IPC) codes that IoT inventions are related. We have searched the online database of the Taiwan Intellectual Property Office based on those IPC codes to locate laid-open/issued IoT patent applications in Taiwan. As shown in Figure 1, the number of laid-open/issued IoT patent applications in Taiwan has increased significantlyevery year since 2011. In 2015 alone, there were over 1,600 laid-open/issued IoT patent applications.
The top three types of inventions claimed in the IoT patent applications laid open/issued in Taiwan between 2010 and 2016 are H04L29/06 (communication control and communication process, characterized by a protocol); G06F15/16 (data processing equipment, composed of two or more computers forsimultaneous processing of several programs); and H04L12/28 (data switching networks, characterized by path configuration, e.g. LAN or WAN).
Figure 2 shows the growth and decline in the number of laid-open/issued patent applications involving inventions under each of these three IPC codes between 2010 and 2016. The number of H04L29/06 patent applications was substantially stable between 2010 and 2016, while the number of G06F15/16 patent applications increased gradually during the same period. However, the number of H04L12/28 patent applications has been decreasing each year. This indicates that IoT inventions under IPC code G06F15/16 have been gaining more and more attention, whereas those under IPC code H04L12/28 have been losing momentum in recent years.
Figure 3 shows the top ten applicants of laid-open/issued IoT patent applications in Taiwan between 2010 and 2016. American companies Qualcomm and InterDigital are the top two applicants. Taiwan’s Foxconn follows closely in third place, leading its Taiwanese peers in IoT innovation.
It is clear from the above that Taiwanese corporations lag much behind their foreign competitors in developing IoT technology. Moreover, according to the IoT patent report published by the UKIPO in 2014 and that by LexInnova in 2016, Chinese corporations were among the top three IoT patent applicants. However, none of the top ten IoT patent applicants in Taiwan came from China.
IoT technology is closely related to software development. Whether a patent can be granted depends greatly how the claims are drafted. Since the regulations and standards for assessing the patentability of software-related inventions are slightly different in each country, one should consider those differences in order to ensure the patentability of his/her invention. All the possible scenarios that may occur during enforcement must also be considered in claim drafting; otherwise, even if a patent is granted, the patent holder may not be able to enforce his/her patent against others.