Contributed by Ray Angers, Patent & Technology Specialist
Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) strengthened its position in the mobile wireless technology space last week with the announcement that it will be acquiring 1,400 patents owned by Powerwave Technologies, Inc.. Powerwave, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2013, was a pioneer in telecommunications infrastructure products, including antennas and base stations according to Intel’s press release. This continues the trend of Intel building IP in this area that started with the purchase of Infineon’s Wireless Solutions Unit for $1.4B back in January 2011, which gave them a sizable presence in the cellular baseband market and 4G LTE. This was followed by the acquisition of 1,700 3G, 4G and 802.11 related technology patents from InterDigital, Inc. in June 2012, and Fujitsu Semiconductor Wireless Products division in July 2013. Recalling the chip giant’s decision back in 2006 to sell its communications and application processor business to Marvell, these announcements represent Intel’s second foray into the wireless communications market.
So what do the Powerwave patents bring to the table for Intel?
The figure below shows the landscape of Intel’s active US patent grants, each dot representing a single publication. Patents are broadly classified according to technology types defined as process & packaging (yellow), systems (red), and circuit (blue). Those left black represent Powerwave patents (US grants and applications). We see coverage across all three of the aforementioned technology types. There is a cluster of Powerwave patents situated near the top blue shaded area over the region annotated with terms signal/clock/frequency. These include patents related to RF power amplifiers, filters, pre-distortion methods. Below that we find patents located in the red area near peaks annotated with terms such as station/wireless/communication and node/port/symbol. These are associated with systems IP such as mobile networks and distributed antenna systems. Finally, to the left in the yellow region where process & packaging patents reside we find the ‘nuts and bolts’ patents; antenna structures, RF modules, materials, enclosures and the like. The cluster of patents residing in between the process and systems peaks generally relate to antennas.
Based on our landscape analysis, it appears Intel has further bolstered its mobile wireless IP across a broad range of technologies, complimenting what they already have developed or obtained from previous acquisitions.
The next question we asked is how does Intel compare now to other major companies playing in wireless infrastructure?
For this we turned to automation to help us compare the patent portfolios of various companies developing IP in this area. We employed a text-based search tool that identified patents which contained terms typically found in patents related to wireless infrastructure. These search terms are grouped into three categories. The Basestation category identifies patents related to topics such as transmitters, antennas, and channel access methods. Resource Management patents deal with network control, while wireless Core patents cover areas such as mobile networks, roaming, and security. The table below summarizes the number of patents our tool found for each of the three categories for a number of companies, and is sorted according to the total number of unique patents identified. Note that the analysis was conducted on US granted patents only.
Ericsson (along with the patents transferred to licensing company Unwired Planet) tops the list with over 3,500 unique wireless infrastructure patents identified. Considering that four of the top five companies on our list identify communications technology as their primary line of business, this makes Intel’s position in this space quite impressive. No doubt they intend to be a key player in the wireless infrastructure market. While the addition of the Powerwave portfolio was relatively small, this acquisition has provided an additional piece to their IP assets with added coverage in Basestation technologies.