Globally, the telecom industry is making significant strides in developing 5G standards. Companies such as Ericsson – which focus on research and development (R&D), and have a strong patent portfolio – are playing a key role in the 5G standardisation process. In an interview with, Mathias Hellman, vice-president, strategy and portfolio  management, IPR and licensing, Ericsson, talks about the company’s role in the 5G standardisation process and the way forward in patent licensing…

How has the global 5G landscape evolved over the years? What are some of the 5G and IoT use cases across industries?

The 5G standardisation process has become collaborative as different companies are participating and contributing towards developing solutions and technologies. One advantage of open standardisation is that any company can join the process and make an impact in terms of formulating standards. The standardisation process for 5G, initiated in 2017, is more heterogeneous today from a geographical perspective.

The change in the 5G landscape is more of a natural evolution. With 5G, many more types of verticals and devices will get connected. In terms of use cases, we are witnessing interest from new companies such as those in the connected cars and automotive fields. Further, 5G will usher in faster download speeds, lower costs per GB, and better coverage due to advanced antenna systems. It will not only allow faster video streaming, but also enable use cases such as critical internet of things (IoT).

What has been the progress in 5G standardisation? What role is Ericsson playing?

The first version of 5G standards, released by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) in 2017-18, set the foundation for the 5G ecosystem. It outlined the complete blueprint of how to build a 5G ecosystem. This blueprint will evolve over time and new features will keep getting added.

Ericsson has been an architect of 5G, and this is reflected in our patent portfolio. We are open and transparent about our work in the 5G space, our customers, our key patents and our continuous investments in the technology. We are willing to share the technology we create through patents to generate licensing revenue rather than to block out other companies.

We began researching on 5G in 2011, much before its standardisation started. We filed a foundational patent application before starting our patent standardisation process for which we have received a positive prior art search report from WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization). Listing of 130+ inventors in Ericsson’s 5G patent application is indicative of the complexity involved in future generation technology. Based on our past experience, we could build strong technical concepts and strategies in line with 3GPP standards. From that perspective, we are still an aspirational leader in the field of standardisation even though the landscape is becoming competitive.

What value will global standardisation bring for a country like India? How will standardisation breed competition?

Global standardisation is important as this will make it easier to develop a connected device. If everyone can access connectivity in a similar manner, it will be easier to build products as patents are available. Companies can then compete on terms other than connectivity. For instance, if a company is developing a handset, it can have long term evolution (LTE) connectivity that works in the same way between two different handsets; however, it can continue to compete on apps, appearance and things that are not necessarily related to connectivity. To my mind, global standardisation is very collaborative. However, the key is to share your technology with others, provided that you get a fair return on it.

How do IPR and patent licensing norms affect innovation? What role does continued investment in R&D play in driving technology innovations?

There is a cycle of investments in the telecom industry. We started on 5G research in 2011 with a small team. When fundamental research began to expand, the team grew. Then, we started working on standardisation by contributing solutions Now, we are in a phase of patent licensing and are seeking fair returns on our technology patents. The revenue that flows in from patent licensing enables another round of investments for enhancing research of the cellular ecosystem. From this perspective, it is good that there is a link between financial returns and early risky research. Timely return on investments, good faith negotiations, collaborative research and a balanced IPR regime are key to supporting the innovation cycle.

What would be the way forward for India in terms of IPR and patent licensing?

For India, having an effective patent regime in place is vital for fostering investments. We see India as an important market for technology development and investments. We have a strong R&D presence here with around 1,700 staff. We are also filing many patents in India as we consider it important for our infrastructure business. I have seen positive developments in the field of R&D, patents and licensing in India. Patents are a good way of investing in the next wave of research and can be a vehicle for future investments. s