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5G: Made Possible by Property Rights

With ads for 5G services and new 5G-enabled smartphones and other devices on the rise, it’s worth considering the role property rights play in this newest stage in wireless technology.

Let’s start with a recent report by Accenture, which examines the economic benefits 5G connectivity should bring the United States over the next few years. Cutting to the chase, “The Impact of 5G on the United States Economy” estimates that the fifth generation of wireless technology will yield as many as 16 million American jobs and contribute up to $1.5 trillion in GDP by 2025. Each of those jobs in 5G will spur another 1.8 U.S. jobs. And 5G will spark as much as $2.7 trillion in U.S. sales growth. All this in 5G’s early years, as it’s still maturing!

The foundational inventions that underlie 5G wireless build on, and vastly improve, mobile technology. Years and years of research and development in a very few innovators’ labs. Billions and billions of dollars in private R&D funding. Overcoming complicated scientific and technological challenges.

Qualcomm, for example, pours a fifth of its revenues into R&D. And the report notes “the semiconductor industry has invested more in R&D since the 1990s than all other major industrial segments individually, with major companies such as TSMC, Intel and Qualcomm leading the way for cutting edge, technological innovation.”

All this investment of tremendous levels of financial, industrial and human resources came with no guarantee of success at any level.

The Accenture report includes a policy framework for ensuring and protecting the innovation ecosystem for 5G. To ensure U.S. technological leadership in 5G (and other fields of critical technology), we must restore patent reliability, the ability to fully exercise one’s IP rights, and safeguard the integrity of standards development and access to remedies such as injunction — including for standard-essential patents.

The successful, foundational inventions get patented and enter the standards development phase. Innovators and implementers convene in standards-development organizations to determine, on a consensus basis, which specific technologies are the best and are to become the industry standard.

Standardization ensures interoperability of multiple implementers’ devices — so your iPhone on a T-Mobile plan seamlessly keeps you connected through your Ford SUV’s interface with GPS navigation, your mother’s voice on her Samsung phone with AT&T service and your Pandora-streamed music, all at the same time.

To ensure such sophisticated results and realize 5G’s promise, standards are essential. So is IP-respecting, good-faith, SDO and participant integrity. Accenture observes that “the establishment of standards should balance utilizing the full spectrum of international expertise with national security to ensure seamless connectivity globally.”

Keep in mind: Innovators’ R&D investment decisions occur many years before a cutting-edge invention has shown promise and while seemingly insurmountable technological and engineering challenges loomed. Intellectual property rights — namely exclusivity throughout the patent term and the means to enforce one’s rights against patent infringers and implementer holdouts — encourage such high-risk, high-reward discovery and invention.

Today, we’ve come a long way from 1G “brick” phones delivering analog voice calls in the 1980s. 2G digital voice in the 1990s gave way to the 2000s’ voice and data transmission. Next, the 2010s’ smartphone took us to voice, data and bandwidth broad enough that it’s enabled the mobile app economy and the Internet of Things.

With 5G, its level of data speed, low latency, ultrahigh broadband capacity, quality, security and reliability will support 1 million connected devices per one square kilometer (about 4/10s mile). That is, 5G is orders of magnitude superior technologically to 4G.

Hence, 5G promises a new Industrial Revolution. It has the potential to spur unimagined advances in and applications for manufacturing, utilities, artificial intelligence, telemedicine, robotics, transportation and much more. New economic sectors, like the app economy with 4G, will blossom.

But only because of private property rights as the foundation of 5G’s foundational innovation.

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