South Korean handset maker Pantech Co. Ltd. announced last week that the company is being put up for sale. Pantech is the third largest phone manufacturer in Korea, behind giants Samsung and LG. The company has been struggling in recent quarters, and has been dealing with a debt restructuring program.
Envision IP analyzed Pantech’s US patent portfolio to understand the breadth and quality of the company’s IP. Pantech currently owns 291 US patents, with 269 utility patents and 22 design patents. While outside the scope of our analysis, Pantech also owns 2,654 foreign patents, with 2,239 of these being Korean patents, and 211 being European patents.
The vast majority of Pantech’s US patent portfolio consists of signal transmission technologies (109 patents, ~38%), which include patents related to allocation of wireless network resources, bandwidth optimization, handover methods, and MIMO-CDMA technologies.
Mobile device housings are the next largest category (32 patents, ~11%), which include hardware, designs, and components for mobile casings and covers.
Operating systems software and display/input technologies each make up 26 patents (~9% each). The remaining patents cover various areas such as multimedia, encryption/security, camera technologies, antenna hardware, and semiconductors.
The company appears to have invested R&D resources into emerging technologies, as indicated by 6 patents related to augmented reality owned by Pantech. For example, US 8654151 entitled “Apparatus and method for providing augmented reality using synthesized environment map” relates to displaying augmented information related to objects hidden from the user’s view using a mobile device.
Another interesting patent is US 8380327, entitled “Flexible electronic product having a shape change characteristic and method thereof” which relates to a flexible mobile device display as shown below:
Pantech’s US patent portfolio is dwarfed by the patent portfolios of domestic rivals Samsung and LG . Samsung owns approximately 60,000 in-force US patents, and LG owns approximately 30,000 in-force US patents (across all of their diversified business units, and not limited strictly to mobile and telecommunications technologies). However, in terms of reverse and forward citations, the portfolios of all three companies are relatively comparable:
The citation analysis indicates that Pantech’s patents, on average, are technically as strong as Samsung’s patents from a validity standpoint, based strictly on the reverse citation count. With regards to how innovative Pantech’s patents are to the mobile device sector, the patents appear slightly less fundamental than both LG and Samsung’s patents, based strictly on the forward citation count. It is important to note that the strength and quality of patents must be determined using a variety of factors, such as claim analysis, prosecution history review, litigation analysis, etc., with citation counts being only one factor.
On average, the patents have a remaining term of 11.75 years, giving a prospective acquirer time to potentially monetize the patents, either via commercialization or licensing/enforcement.
Last April, Reuters reported that India’s Micromax Informatics Ltd. had expressed interest in buying a stake in Pantech. Micromax does not own any issued US patents, and we did not identify any published US applications assigned to the company. A potential acquisition could yield Micromax a portfolio of mobile and telecommunications-related patents that would assist it in entering the US, Korean, and European markets.