is a Senior Research Associate at the Center on Law, Business, and Economics at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. His area of expertise is the empirical economic analysis of technological innovation and markets for technologies, with a particular focus on technology standards and Standard-Essential Patents. Justus’ research on technology standards and SEPs has been published in leading academic journals, including Research Policy, the Journal of Economics, Management, and Strategy, and the International Journal of Industrial Organization. Justus has authored several policy reports on FRAND licensing and standards organizations, in particular for the European Commission; and he was a member of the European Commission’s SEP Expert Group.
Even as Europe and the rest of the world continued to face the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the development of 5G and other Standard Essential Patent (SEP)-enabled technology standards has continued at an unabated pace. While the year has not yet ended, more than 100,000 technical contributions have already been submitted at 3GPP meetings for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G in 2021 – a near-record yearly contribution count. The invention and standardization of massive, complex communication technologies continues to generate significant numbers of SEPs. According to IPlytics data, the cumulative number of self-declared SEP families has surpassed 72,000 in 2021, indicating a five-fold increase in just 10 years.
Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) are on the rise; the number of newly declared patents per year has almost tripled over the past five years. There were 17,623 new declared patent families in 2020, compared to 6,457 in 2015 (see Figure 1). The 5G standard alone counts over 150,000 declared patents since 2015. Similarly, litigation around SEPs has increased. One of the driving factors of recent patent litigation is the shift in connectivity standards (eg, 4G/5G, Wi-Fi) that in the past were mostly used in computers, smartphones and tablets, but are now increasingly implemented in connected vehicles, smart homes, smart factories, smart energy and healthcare applications. Another reason why litigation may rise further is the belief that large SEP owners such as Huawei, ZTE or LG Electronics may soon sell parts of their SEP portfolios, which may likely end up in the hands of patent assertion entities (PAEs). One way or another, it is anticipated that the majority of patent holders will actively monetize their SEPs covering standards such as 5G, Wi-Fi 6 or VVC in this fast-moving, high-investment environment. Any company adopting these standards must decrease operational risk and expense exposure by taking a proactive strategy towards SEPs rather than a reactive one.