5G’s Arrival Tees Up Patent Fights in Market Set to Grow 12,000%

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Photographer: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Battles unfolding on several continents over who profits from connected cars, smarthomes, and robotic surgery may dwarf the size and scope of the tech industry’s first worldwide patent war — the one over smartphones.

Automakers are now in court fighting some of the same companies that phonemakers such as Apple Inc. had to pay billions of dollars for use of their wireless standards technology. Those companies — Qualcomm Inc., Nokia Oyj, and other telecommunications developers — may reap 5G royalties not only from “talking cars” but from products that will communicate wirelessly being planned in agriculture, medicine, appliances and other sectors.

“So many different types of companies have to find a way to get these deals done,” said Joe Siino, president of Dolby Laboratories Inc.’s patent licensing arm, which works with audio, wireless, broadcast and automotive industries. “It’s taking the problems we had with smartphones and multiplying it by 10.”

The value of standardized technology was a key issue in the smartphone wars that pitted the developers of wireless technology, like Nokia, Qualcomm and Motorola Mobility, against then-new entrants into the handset market, such as Apple and Microsoft Corp. Dozens of legal battles were waged over nearly a decade, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees alone.

The new disputes are potentially more lucrative as sales of devices using 5G is forecast to grow to $668 billion globally in 2026 from $5.5 billion this year, according to Allied Market Research. The technology promises to transform a wide range of products from the dishwashers you program on your morning commute to driverless delivery trucks and sensors that let a farmer monitor crops, livestock and equipment from a smartphone.

Read More: Once a Handset Superpower, Nokia Still Commands