Research shows rise in patent filings for satellite systems

Patent applications for satellite-based technologies have doubled in the last five years, according to patent and trademark attorney Withers & Rogers.

Based on the company’s analysis of the incidence of international patent filings relating to global navigation satellite systems (GNSSs), the number of applications rose from 462 in 2004 to 961 in 2009.

According to Withers & Rogers, this is likely, in part, owing to companies filing multiple applications referring to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and alternative systems including the EU’s Galileo and the Russian GLONASS network.

‘This research confirms that R&D [research and development] activity in this field is thriving and has never been stronger,’ said Nick Wallin, patent attorney at Withers & Rogers. ‘This is largely due to the gradual emergence of GPS alternatives, such as Galileo, which has secured significant political support in Europe and is expected to start operating in 2014. This is leading to an innovation race as engineers seek to commercialise applications of the newly available technology.

‘However, it is still very early days. The number of patents filed that refer to Galileo still trails the number that refer to GPS, but the gap is beginning to close.’

GPS is referenced in the vast majority of global patent applications but the political drive to develop systems controlled in other parts of the world may now be beginning to influence the patent-filing behaviour of larger corporates such as Qualcomm and Nokia.

‘Qualcomm is filing the most patents that reference Galileo, the EU-owned version of GPS, and Nokia Corporation is in second position,’ said Wallin. ‘This indicates that larger corporates are starting to take the Galileo system seriously and the number of global patent filings that reference the GPS alternative has increased five-fold between 2004 and 2009.’

Backed by the European Community, Galileo will work alongside US GPS and the Russian GLONASS network, using the same frequency band as GPS, and its technologies are expected to be standardised through the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).