Samsung announced today its acquisition of Harman International Industries for approximately $8.0 billion. Harman is a leading manufacturer of audio and visual systems, connected vehicle technologies, enterprise automation, and connected services. The company owns numerous brands, including AKG Acoustics, AMX, Crown Audio, Bang & Olufsen Automotive, Harman/Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, and others. Many of these brands are deeply integrated into various automobile lines, including those offered by BMW, Toyota, Aston Martin, Daimler, and Hyundai.
Envision IP analyzed Harman’s US patent portfolio to understand its scope and the patented technologies which Samsung may be able to leverage as its grows its offerings in the automotive technology and connected vehicle space. Harman owns 1,077 in-force US patents, with approximately 350 being assigned specifically to Harman Becker Automotive Systems GmbH. These automotive-related patents cover audio processing technologies to optimize, reduce, and enhance sound within a vehicle cabin, in-vehicle multimedia systems, speech recognition and user interfaces for controlling various vehicle functions, and wireless technologies for vehicle-to-vehicle and remote connectivity.
In addition, Harman owns approximately 90 patents are directed towards navigation systems, mapping technologies, driver assistance, and telematics. One interesting patent that we identified is US 9,481,287, entitled “Roadway projection system”, which describes a vehicle projection system that displays warnings and information to a user by projecting images onto a roadway, as shown in the figures below:
Other unique patents include US 9,476,718 entitled “Generating text messages using speech recognition in a vehicle navigation”, US 9,354,073, entitled “Eye gaze enabled navigation system”, and US 8,930,452 entitled “System and method for automatically posting user-location information to a social network”.
Harman has obtained the vast majority of its US patent portfolio organically, with 1,008 of its 1,077 issued US patents being originally filed by Harman or one of its subsidiaries. Harman has acquired a handful of patents from third-parties, including 19 patents from Verto Medical Solutions LLC, 3 patents from IBM, 2 patents from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., 2 patents from Nokia Technology GmbH, and 1 patent each from DaimlerChrysler AG and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Only four of the company’s patents have been involved in litigation, with three of these being design patents for its audio hardware.
Harman’s US patent portfolio has an average remaining term of 9.7 years. The company has experienced a generally upward trend in yearly patent issuances since the early 2000s, as shown in the chart below. This trend appears to indicate that Harman has consistently filed-for and obtained patent applications for automotive and audio/visual technologies as the industry has evolved over the last decade.
In addition to the issued patents, we identified over 500 pending US patent applications assigned to Harman. Furthermore, the company owns over 1,300 foreign patents and published applications outside of the United States.
The acquisition will certainly bolster Samsung’s patent protection in the connected vehicle space. While Samsung is a patent behemoth, prior to this acquisition, it owned only approximately 260 patents directed towards vehicle technologies, and specifically to connected vehicles and vehicle navigation systems. The Harman patents should complement Samsung’s existing patents in this space, as well as provide additional technologies related to user interfaces, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, driver warning systems and heads-up displays, and multimedia hardware and software for vehicles.