T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS Merger – Not Driven by Patents

The Wall Street Journal reported today that T-Mobile’s German parent Deutsche Telekom AG is close to a merger with smaller rival MetroPCS Communications Inc.

Given the highly litigious telecommunications industry, and specifically, the growing importance of LTE-related patents, Envision IP reviewed the US patent portfolios of T-Mobile and MetroPCS to understand what role, if any, that intellectual property assets played in this merger.

In a recent press release MetroPCS claimed that it “was the first U.S. carrier to deploy a commercial 4G LTE network in September 2010 and has since built out its 4G LTE network to cover roughly 90 percent of its CDMA footprint”, and it announced the “world’s first commercial launch of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) services”.

Surprisingly, we identified only 7 issued US patents assigned to MetroPCS.  None of these US patents appear to have claims relevant to LTE technologies. MetroPCS also has about 10 foreign patents and pending applications.  We also identified 4 expired US patents assigned to General Wireless, Inc., the company that MetroPCS was formerly known as.

This suggests that MetroPCS is likely licensing much of the technology enabling it to offer LTE and VoLTE services and related devices.

In contrast, T-Mobile owns 186 US patents, with 26 of these patents having claims related to LTE and its underlying technologies.  Furthermore, Deutsche Telekom owns 294 US patents, with 15 of these having claims relevant to LTE technologies.

Also, the combined T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom European patent portfolio includes approximately 1,200 issued patents, which includes German, British, as well as EP patents.

In summary, the merger of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS will not create a patent holding powerhouse with significant LTE-related patents.  The combined company will likely continue to license much of the LTE-related technology that it requires from other companies.

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