Less Travelled Path to Market Leadership in the 5G Era
5G world in 2030 - dawn of a hyper-connected world where traditional business strategies are redefined - innovation is democratized instead of being cartelized, competition is multidimensional and invisible instead of being known, and solutions drive consumers crazy instead of blockbuster products.
The dominance of the traditional active components manufactures in telecom space is seriously challenged by previously unknown players. Proprietary technologies of the traditional active components manufactures are giving way to network virtualization, programmable networks, small cells, hardware abstraction and so forth. These innovations are fueled by technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT that come from startups and players operating in non-telecom sectors. Telecom Operators no longer compete with other Telecom Operators, they also compete with leading technology companies and OTT players that ride on telecom infrastructure for free and are closer to end customers. Leading telecom infrastructure companies face competition from emerging players, who replace traditional proprietary network with open-source disaggregated and virtualized network with infinite possibilities. System integration players build a densely fiberized, future-ready, web-scale, virtualized digital network that can deliver next-gen services instead of separate traditional voice and data networks, employing technologies way outside traditional telcom sector. With diffusion of technologies across in several sectors, there is increased realization that development of patent portfolio against direct competition is insufficient. Telecom companies increasingly rely on technologies and access to intellectual property from outside their core industry. Traditional arch rivals could avoid the threat of patent litigation because patent portfolios of all the major players effectively balance each other. Now even the best of the patent portfolios do not provide the freedom to operate, as patent threat can emerge from practically anywhere.
In the changed scenario, it is near impossible for one organization to develop all the technical capabilities internally or to secure all IP protection needed to freely serve their markets. Traditional IP strategy to weaponize patents, to exclude competition and extract royalties, is giving way to a more collaborative and eco-system driven IP Strategy. Leading companies now deploy more sophisticated and nuanced Intellectual Property playbooks to create competitive advantage:
Gear IP portfolio for Customer Acquisition: More and more companies are using their patent portfolios for acquisition of customers. For example, Microsoft provides, to it's Azure customers, access to 10000 Microsoft patents for defensive use. Azure customers can use these Microsoft patents if their services running on Azure face IP claims. Such indemnity is useful as the cloud related patent challenges are on rise. Such strong protection virtually guarantee freedom to operate to customers and not only attracts new customers but strengthen customer relationships.
Defensive Patent Pools: Patent Communities such as RPX and Open Invention Network (OIN) are on rise that buy patents on behalf of their members, thereby defusing many more patent threats than any individual member would be able to mitigate by itself.
Multi-stakeholder Co-creation : Leading companies have started to co-create solutions with customers and stakeholders, helping strengthen the eco system and allowing access to required Intellectual Property. This increases stakes for customer, supplies and stakeholders, thereby all of them derive additional strength from each other's market influence and patent portfolios. Companies such as Reliance, Sterlite and Tech Mahindra leverage in-house capabilities, spread-out patent portfolio and partnerships to offer next-gen 5G networks.
Localized Standards - 5G standards are localized in several markets such as India. These efforts are mostly supported by the respective governments. This has given lifetime opportunity to new players to secure Standard Essential Patents (SEP's) and get a seat in the elite club, which has been traditionally reserved for active component manufacturers.
Ecosystem approach - Leading companies have invested in a wide range of technologies such as optical fibres, wireless technologies, optical connectivity, large-scale digital network integration, and virtualized wireless capabilities to offer an end-to-end 5G ecosystem to its customers. The ecosystem creates the Next-Gen Digital Network by bringing together four specialised technological confluences – (i) wired and wireless (ii) software and hardware (iii) connectivity and compute, and (iv) open source - all at the edge of the network. This network will bring the scale and quality to bring affordable Internet to the world. Such an ecosystem approach allows to offer patent-protected innovative solutions across the 5G spectrum, while multiplying the strength of the patent portfolio.
Explosion of infringer: With technologies no more confined to boundaries, the number of potential infringers has exploded. Companies have started seeing the potential infringers as potential partners who can help expand the market. Technology-based patent portfolios have given startups and outsider companies access to closed ecosystem that was earlier revered for incumbents.
5G is causing exponential increase in business value of IP. It is time to closely tie IP strategy to business goals, and deploy both collaborative toolkits and weaponized versions of IP to achieve the business goals.