Opinions and Editorials

Dec. 14, 2019

The Economic Standard: True Innovators Need Secure Patents for R&D by James Edwards

Remember how early mobile phones routinely dropped calls?  Mobile devices today operate on better technology.

The innovative system, called “code division multiple access,” supplanted an approach the telecommunications industry was considering as the underpinning for wireless communication.  CDMA more efficiently uses airwaves to handle many simultaneous calls and data by encoding them in order to share airwave frequencies.

The industry had been pursuing a “time-share” approach to using limited airwaves.  CDMA made it possible to scale up from “brick” cell phones to today’s smartphones.

A 1985 startup, Qualcomm made the first CDMA phone call in 1989.  The firm in 1992 patented an invention using CDMA to share the same frequency for multiple calls and an invention improving the switching of cell towers midcall.  The company licensed its patents to makers of handsets and other equipment that ride atop the infrastructure CDMA and related inventions create.

All along, Qualcomm kept up its sophisticated inventing and engineering, researching and developing.  In 1993, the U.S. telecommunications industry adopted CDMA as the standard for digital cellular.  It became the foundation of 3G wireless connectivity.

By 2007, Qualcomm had enabled key features of the smartphone, such as streaming video and “airplane mode,” and had become the world’s mobile chipset leader.

Fast-forward to today and Qualcomm’s R&D not only has made it the industry-leading technological standard-setter for 4G, but global leader in the emerging 5th-generation wireless evolution.

Thanks to its R&D-patent licensing business model, dropped calls are much rarer and our phones help us get around with GPS, text, latch our homes’ locks, stream our favorite programs, monitor our cardio exercise and more.

This example shows how something goes from a discovery to an idea for translating it into practical application to standard-setting core technology.  This basic path applies to independent inventors’ discovery and commercialization.