Location Based Services & IP
A look at the upward trend of location based services and the IP driving it
In the early 2000’s, the market for Location Based Services (LBS) was in its infancy, restricted mainly to mapping, GPS in PNDs and high-end consumer mobile devices. Since the advent of smartphones for the wider commercial market, this has all changed and the widespread provision of mobile LBS is now seen as a dominant part of our future. The relative number of applications for patents related to Location Based Services has been on an upward trend since the mid-90s, as can be seen in Figure 1
below, alongside the source of these applications, in Figure 2
(NB. patent applications are typically published 18 months after a first filing so recent figures will be lower than actual – based on research from late 2011).
[caption id="attachment_354" align="alignnone" width="450"] Figure 1: ‘Location Based Services’ Patent Applications as a % of all applications p/a[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_355" align="alignnone" width="446"] Figure 2: ‘Location Based Services’ Patent Applications per key jurisdiction p/a[/caption]
Of the assignees that hold LBS patents, it is possible to identify those which hold key LBS related portfolios. In Figure 3
below, a selection of key assignees are plotted according to patent citations, where we can see that companies such as Go2, Openwave
all have smaller, but very highly cited portfolios. Other, much larger companies, such as Microsoft, Qualcomm
, have significantly more LBS related IP, including some particularly important patents. These are mainly all patents from reasonably well-established LBS markets, such as navigation, advertising and enabling infrastructure. With subsequent sales and acquisitions, and as additional markets develop, it is likely that this picture may change significantly over the coming years.
Selected Key LBS Assignees
[caption id="attachment_367" align="alignnone" width="775"]
Figure 3: ‘Location Based Services’ Key Assignees (size of point proportional to no. of LBS related applications held per assignee)[/caption]
Each result was checked for terms matching significant categories and assigned to one, more or none of these, depending on the keywords it contained. Within the field of LBS IP, at the time of writing, the most populated categories were navigation and advertising, as seen in Figure 4.
overleaf, and from investigating the key assignees shown in Figure 3
above. These categories form important aspects of their businesses. Commerce also factors significantly into those companies’ operations and while only a small proportion of LBS patents are related directly to that category, it is thought that these form only a small part of the larger end-to-end provision for mobile payments. Patents related to privacy and security of these systems also continue to form a significant proportion of the IP landscape.
[caption id="attachment_368" align="alignnone" width="747"]
Figure 4: ‘Location Based Services’ Category Sizes as % of LBS portfolio[/caption]
There is often a blurred line between Social Networking and Gaming with both having seen significant growth from almost no activity a decade ago, both in number of applications (Figure 5) and in importance to the LBS landscape.
[caption id="attachment_358" align="alignnone" width="576"] Figure 5 - 'Location-based services' keyword patent applications (% of LBS applications per year)[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_359" align="alignnone" width="328"] Figure 6 – LBS gaming patent applications (% of gaming applications)[/caption]
As the technology providing the backbone to LBS matures, companies are increasingly taking advantage of this to supplement their services with additional features, and the continued growth in patent applications for these categories reflects this. In particular, applications for LBS gaming-related patents have shown consistent growth (Figure 6). With the gaming industry in 2009/10 being worth $50bn+
globally and the growth outpacing other entertainment forms, such as music and movies, the proliferation of LBS gaming and social mechanics, throughout the industry, has cemented itself as an important part of the LBS IP landscape.
All of this tells us about the state of the IP today (2011) and where it has come from, but what about the future and where it is going? Examination of recent filings shows a trend towards automated and predictive systems; and LBS that anticipates where you are going to be rather than acting on where you are. Along with this, there is also a trend for the integration of LBS into more specialised areas, for example, schedule management and healthcare provision. If it moves, chances are someone is developing a location based technology around it. Ultimately, LBS innovation, as of 2011, has just been laying the foundations for future applications that reach into all aspects of technology.