Patent applications for satellite based technologies have doubled in the last five years, indicating that interest in finding new uses for existing technologies and developing new technologies is stronger than ever, according to a UK firm of patent and trade mark attorneys.
Based on Withers & Rogers LLP's analysis of the incidence of international patent filings relating to global navigation satellite systems (gnss), the number of applications rose from 462 in 2004 to 961 in 2009 – a rise of 108%. The patent specialist believes this is probably partly due to companies filing multiple applications referring to the US global positioning system (gps) and various alternative systems including the EU's Galileo and Russian GLONASS network. Nick Wallin, patent attorney at Withers & Rogers LLP, said: "This research confirms that R&D activity in this field is thriving and has never been stronger. 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." As the dominant system, which has been in use for more than 30 years, gps is referenced in the vast majority of global patent applications. However, 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. Nick Wallin, patent attorney at Withers & Rogers LLP, added: "Qualcomm is filing the most patents that reference Galileo, the EU-owned version of gps and Nokia is in second position. 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). Wallin concluded: "At a time when some of the original patents for US gps are nearing the end of their 20 year life span, it is good to see that R&D activity in this dynamic field is stronger than ever."