But there is more to a patent portfolio than the sheer number of patents it contains. It is also important to look at what the patents cover, since some will be strategically more valuable than others. Of course, it is completely impractical to read nearly 60,000 patents to determine what each one of them is about. Fortunately, there are visualisation tools, such as the ThemeScape mapping capabilities of the Thomson Innovation package, which allow us to get a view of the big picture, without the need to drill down into all the details.
OverviewThe figures in the sections below show the results of patent landscape mapping based on the portfolios of mobile patents held by Samsung, Motorola, Microsoft, the Rockstar Bidco consortium, Apple, Oracle, HTC and Google, which were identified in the search described in Part III.
The maps reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each company’s portfolio. In summary:
- The starkest contrast is between Microsoft and Samsung, which dominate completely different regions of the landscape, reflecting their strengths in software and hardware respectively.
- Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility will give its portfolio a profile that is very similar to Samsung’s, albeit on a smaller scale.
- While Apple’s portfolio is smaller, it has significant concentrations of patents in the critical region between the Microsoft-dominated software zone and the hardware zones which are heavily populated by Samsung, Motorola and Nortel.
The Overall LandscapeThe figure below shows a ‘ThemeScape map’ constructed from the patent families in the set described in Part III.
- moving from north to south, and east to west, corresponds with a transition from principally software-based systems and applications to low-level hardware and communications components, via interfaces between software, hardware and users;
- the “island” to the northeast of the chart is occupied by documents relating to software systems, principally applications (including development and installation environments), client-side software and some web services;
- the “peninsula” jutting out from the main land mass towards the island comprises search and media content services;
- the northern region represents user interface technologies, including touch-screen and display systems;
- in the northwest there are clusters relating to handset hardware and antennas;
- the central regions largely represent mobile services;
- the southern, south western and western regions are primarily occupied by documents relating to low-level hardware and processing, including base station and mobile components, communications protocols, and signal processing.
Microsoft and SamsungThe figure below shows an overlay of Microsoft (yellow circles) and Samsung (red circles) portfolios on the overall ThemeScape map. The topography highlights the historically complementary interests of Microsoft – which, as a software company, dominates the northeast region of the map – and Samsung, whose portfolio is strongest in the southern and western regions.
MotorolaBelow is shown an overlay of the Motorola Mobility portfolio on the overall ThemeScape map. Google’s acquisition of the company, along with its patent portfolio, will give it a similar patent profile (although smaller in number) to Samsung. Indeed, relative to the size of its portfolio, Motorola Mobility appears to have a greater density of documents than Samsung in the critical software and interface areas of the map in the central and northeastern regions.
AppleThe figure below overlays Apple’s portfolio on the overall ThemeScape map. The greatest strengths of Apple’s patent portfolio clearly lie in the regions corresponding with user interfaces, displays and touch screens. The two Apple patents which briefly resulted in the award of an interlocutory injunction in Australia are both located near the summit of the northern peak labelled “Touch Screen Interaction & Display”. However, Apple does not have this area of innovation to itself – as the preceding charts show, Microsoft, Samsung and Motorola Mobility all also have closely related patents and/or applications.
In the fifth and final article in the series we will examine how the above patent portfolios relate to the fraught areas of industry standards and FRAND licensing obligations, and speculate about a resolution to the ongoing IP disputes.