Huawei’s recent patent lawsuits lunched against Samsung in China and US have attracted much attention. Huawei demanded compensation from Samsung for its alleged infringement on the former’s intellectual properties, including high-value patents in cellular-communications technology and some softwares used in Samsung’s smartphones.

According to the PCT patent application statistics released by WIPO in 2015, Huawei Technologies Co. filed 3898 applications, an increase of 456 compared with the number of last year, ranking the first among the world’s enterprises for the second year in a row. Until the end of 2015, Huawei has been granted 50377 patents in the world wide. These patents cover LTE communication technology, operating systems for smartphones and user interface.

Huawei’s change from defendant to plaintiff reflects the fast development of China’s communication industry. Especially when it comes to patents, China’s smartphone manufacturers raised their awareness in patent protection and increased their spending on R&D. How exactly are Huawei and Samsung’s patent strength in 4G technology like? By May 28, 2016, about 70, 000 patent applications in 4G are filed by global applicants like Qualcomm Inc, ZTE Corporation, Ericsson, Huawei, Samsung, etc.. Among them, Huawei filed over 1600 patent applications, with 484 of them being granted, covering wireless communication network, digital information transmission and transmission system; while Samsung filed over 1400 patent applications, with 245 of them being granted. In the field of smartphone functions, Huawei filed over 6700 patent applications, with 3400 of them being granted; while Samsung filed over 15, 000 patent applications, with 8, 200 of them being granted.

Behind Huawei’s change of role is its large investment in R&D and continued innovation in technology. Statistics show that in 2015, Huawei poured $9.2 billion, roughly 15% of its sales revenue, into the R&D of new technology, new products and wireless communication standards. By the end of 2015, Huawei has acquired a total of 50, 377 patents throughout the world.

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Seen from Fig.1, Samsung’s patent application outnumbers that of Huawei by 5 folds. In terms of amount, Huawei is indeed not as good as Samsung. After all, Huawei is founded several decades later than Samsung and the Samsung’s business scope is much wider than that of Huawei’s. In terms of patent types, the two are both keen inventors, owning many invention patents in communication and transmission. Andin terms of patent granting rate, Samsung’s 55% is clearly higher than Huawei’s 40%. 

Samsung’s patent applications mainly cover semiconductors. Apart from communication, its business also spread to audio-visual products (such as camera, camcorder and home theater, etc.), IT products (hard drive, notebook, etc.) and home appliances. Huawei’s patent applications mainly lie in digital information transmission and wireless communication, tallying with its market positioning as a provider of communication solutions.

Data shows that Huawei’s major destinations of patent application is China, US and Europe, whereas Samsung mainly applies in South Korea, US and China, with less patent applications in Japan and Europe. This distribution is explained by the fact that most companies that seek to acquire patents in overseas market would file applications in their home countries first and then in other countries.

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In the two’s overlapping business of communication, Huawei and Samsung is mostly at par with each other in terms of patent applications as shown in Fig.2. However, Samsung beats Huawei in granting rate.

In patent litigation, US is too important a battle field to neglect. What are the two’s patent portfolios in US like? Search result shows that Samsung’s patents in US are over two times of those of Huawei. This gap is mainly formed in the last decade. Since 2007, Huawei’s patent portfolio is gradually expending at an overall stable rate.

Apart from the sheer number of patent application, the degree of emphasis a company places on the patents in a particular region could also be reflected by the rate of patent renewal. Statistics show that the rate of patent non-renewal is roughly 0.02% and 0.25% for Huawei and Samsung in the field of communication for the past two decades. This shows that while Samsung filed a large amount of patents applications, it also abandoned many, whereas Huawei filed less than Samsung, but also dropped less.

“This litigation involves related patents in 4G standards and smartphone functions. The involved patents are crucial to the user experience and mutual connection of smart terminals, and thus are very valuable to Samsung,” said a member of Huawei’s legal department in charge of the matter. Huawei claims in the indictment that Samsung infringed 11 of its patents in US, involving LTE, 2G and 3G technologies. 

Wenyu Li, director of IP Department of China Academy of Telecommunication Research (CATR) said: “The 11 US patents were applied between 2011 and 2014, and were all granted one after another. They cover core network, signalization of physical and top layers, and most of them relate to LTE’s basic version 3GPP Rel-8. It’s worth mentioning that these 11 patents have over 300 family patents covering over 100 countries and regions”.

What values do these patents have for smart terminals? “Seen from the indictment Huawei filed in US, most of the involved patents are 4G standard essential patents” which form the foundation for mutual connection of communicational devices. This means cellphones will not be communicational without these patents. Therefore, the patents involved in the case are extremely valuable for any mobile products.

For the smartphone industry, where players are virtually in a dog-eat-dog market competition, patent litigation has already become an important means for securing a foothold in the market. Hence, it is no surprising for the involved patents that are very valuable for smart terminals to become Huawei’s effective “weapons” for attacking its competitors.