Research and development are seen as a critical focal point in many industries, and a review of the patent filing statistics also seems to reflect the success of a company.

From the mid 1990’s the mobile phone market was really evolving, and possibly the biggest innovator in this space was Nokia. Nokia phones led the way for the best part of 15 years, and after a dispute with Motorola early on, Nokia also ensured they had a strong patent portfolio. In 2000 alone Nokia filed over 1100 Australian patent applications.

From 2000 to 2003, Nokia filed 3073 Australian patent applications. In the same period the other large patent filer was Ericsson with 3011 applications, but a proportion of these were to networking and telecommunication standards. Apple filed 28 but were not making phones at the time, whilst Motorola filed 1874. Soon after, Ericsson decided to exit the handset market and concentrate on the networks that enabled the communications. Nokia was the dominant mobile phone supplier and had the patent portfolio to maintain that position.

But then, Nokia may well have made a critical error. Perhaps they were merely complacent; after all, for years they had been the innovator. In 2007 a new mobile phone entered the market which had a touch screen but poor battery life. Some say that Nokia dismissed the touch screen as a novelty and that the drain on the battery meant it would never last. That new phone was from Apple. History will show the phone they apparently dismissed would revolutionise the industry.

Much like Kodak missed the digital revolution, Nokia missed the touchscreen one. Nokia’s inventors were not looking at touch screen technology and the opportunities that brought. By the time they realised their mistake they were too late, and their once strong patent position was no more.

Samsung on the other hand did see the opportunity and started developing their own touch screen mobile phone.

In the last five years, Nokia have filed 32 Australian patent applications compared to Samsung with 789, and Apple with 662 (although again both Samsung and Apple produce more than just mobile phones). Nokia has also seemingly been passed by other players such as Huawei, who in the last five years have filed 360 applications.

Of course filing a patent application alone does not mean success. It is also recognising and taking opportunities as Apple and Samsung have done, and not ignoring developments made by competitors as in the case of Nokia.

The question is, who’ll be leading the pack in five years?