Who Are the Innovation Leaders, Pragmatists, Emerging Forces, and Opportunists in 5G Cellular Standards Essential Patents (SEPs) and Contributions?

Subscribe To Download This Insight

2Q 2023 | IN-6966

ABI Research categorizes companies into four groups based on their 3GPP contributions and SEP declarations: innovation leaders, pragmatists, emerging forces, and opportunists to assess the companies’ position in the Standard Essential Patent (SEP) market. By tracking these positions, stakeholders can assess market strategies, predict future directions, and anticipate the impact of companies on the industry, providing valuable insights for decision-making and staying competitive in the rapidly evolving 5G landscape.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.


Understand the Strategic Orientations of Companies Regarding to Their SEP Focus


ABI Research introduces a categorization to analyze companies’ positions based on the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) contribution and Standard Essential Patent (SEP) declaration. This categorization helps shed light on the strategic directions of companies within the 5G ecosystem.

  • Innovation Leaders: Companies that excel in both 3GPP contributions and declared patent families, driving technological advancements, and fostering innovation in the 5G ecosystem. Examples: Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm, ZTE, LG Electronics, OPPO, CATT, vivo, and NTT DOCOMO.
  • Pragmatists: Companies that prioritize 3GPP standardization, focusing on driving 5G deployment, with less emphasis on SEP declaration. Examples: Intel, MediaTek, and China Mobile.
  • Emerging Forces: Companies that gradually increase their involvement in both 3GPP standardization and SEP declaration to establish their position and influence in the evolving 5G landscape. However, they are currently operating at a lower level compared to innovation leaders. Examples: Apple, InterDigital, NEC, Sony, China Telecom, Rohde & Schwarz, Spreadtrum, ASUSTeK, Anritsu, Keysight, Orange, and Vodafone.
  • Opportunists: Companies that prioritize SEP declaration and strategically leverage their patents and intellectual property in the market. While they also contribute to 3GPP, their main focus lies in SEP declaration. Examples: Xiaomi, Foxconn (Sharp), and Lenovo

Leaders and Followers in 3GPP and Cellular SEP


The investment process in the telecoms industry typically involves Research and Development (R&D) investment, patent protection, active participation in 3GPP standardization, declaration of essentiality to standards, and claiming Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms from standard implementers. However, the decision-making process for each individual company is more complex and can deviate from this classic flow, especially at the early stage when companies have limited budgets for investing in both 3GPP participation and monetizing R&D through SEP. It is crucial to track companies from both aspects to better assess their market strategies, forecast their future directions, and anticipate their impact on the industry.

Typically, companies operating in the same business categories tend to adopt similar strategies when it comes to SEPs. Network infrastructure vendors, for instance, possess numerous foundational technologies for mobile networks, making them active contributors to 5G standardization and SEP ownership. On the other hand, operators and User Equipment (UE) testing companies lean more toward being “pragmatists,” prioritizing 3GPP contributions based on real field implementations, rather than relying heavily on patent protection for their primary business operations. Mapping a company within its peer group and the entire supply chain makes it possible to identify strategic transformations from a holistic perspective.

Stay Competitive in Evolving Telecom Market


Not surprisingly, the big five network infrastructure vendors (Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE), and the leading chipset vendor Qualcomm fall into the category of innovation leaders, having high numbers of both 3GPP contributions and SEP declarations, as they possess foundational technology for 5G networks. Joining them in this category is the China Academy of Telecommunications Technology (CATT, the parent company of Datang Telecom), recognized for its consistent contributions to 3GPP development and ownership of 5G core patents.   

OPPO and vivo have emerged as new contenders in the development of their SEP portfolios, showcasing their transition path. UE vendors, which tend to declare more SEPs compared to other contributors to 3GPP, are often classified as “opportunists.” However, these vendors have significantly increased their contributions to 3GPP, particularly starting from Release 17. This transformation reflects their strategic shift toward becoming innovation leaders and their ambitions in SEP declarations related to 5G-Advanced technologies. For instance, OPPO has taken on a rapporteurship for two study items in the early stage of Rel-19 studies, namely the Study on Ambient power-enabled IoT and the Study on AI/ML Model Transfer Phase 2.

The current macroeconomic environment has significantly impacted the consumer market, including impacts on revenue from smartphone sales for UE vendors and consumer service revenue for mobile operators. As the industry looks to explore opportunities in the enterprise market, there will be fierce competition within the supply chain, particularly concerning enabling technologies, such as energy saving, Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML)-based automation, Reduced Capability (RedCap), passive Internet of Things (IoT), sidelink, and the integration of sensing and communication. In this context, companies may benefit from transforming their strategies to emulate existing technology leaders. NTT DOCOMO, for example, serves as a role model with a well-established SEP portfolio and licensing service for other operators aiming to capitalize on their R&D investments.