Thursday, November 17, 2022

IPlytics fails to justify glaring discrepancies between 2020 and 2022 reports on narrowband IoT standard-essential patents

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post on why actual numbers of narrowband IoT-related standard-essential patents are hard to come up with, and keyword searches are inherently unreliable in this context. Tim Pohlmann, the founder and CEO of IPlytics, reacted on LinkedIn, first under his personal and then posting the same statement under IPlytics' corporate account. He "doth protest too much"--and he contradicts himself:

The actual report purports to "paint a robust picture of the NB-IoT landscape" (emphasis added) and to "provide meaningful, actionable insights." The headline is "Who is winning the IoT SEP race?" (on the website: "Who is leading the IoT SEP race?") On LinkedIn, however, Mr. Pohlmann wrote the following, which contrasts nicely with his marketing claims:

"Our reports are not published to provide the truth about the winner[s]. We publish reports to show[]case what can be done with the data we provide. We do not care who ranks first[,] second or third."

IPlytics wants to have it both ways. They make bold claims and promises in public, and their reports have been used not only in licensing negotiations but also by litigants. Once you challenge the methodology and question the results of a particular report, they distance themselves even from its very headline ("Who is winning..."), downgrade the piece to a "showcase," suddenly discover humility, and place the emphasis on a disclaimer ("our data analysis and report results are limited to the approach of a patent declaration-based keywords search").

I would recommend to litigants whose adversaries proffer IPlytics reports to show to the court what Mr. Pohlmann publicly stated on LinkedIn in response to my criticism. Toying around with a database isn't necessarily admissible evidence.

Sadly, the inconsistencies don't end there. Just two examples in the NB-IoT context, comparing last week's report to its 2020 predecessor (Who owns patents, SEPs and develops standards for smart home technologies?) in the specific context of NB-IoT portfolio size:

  1. Huawei--of which I said yesterday that it and Qualcomm indisputably deserve the two top spots--was not even listed among the top NB-IoT SEP holders in the 2020 report, and now it is (credibly) the number one.

    What was IPlytics doing and thinking two years ago? The complete absence of Huawei from the list of leading patent owners should have been more than enough for the report to fail any plausibility check before it was published. IPlytics should have asked themselves whether their methodology was sound given that such an outcome was inexplicable. Instead, they went ahead and published their report anyway. How "robust" and "actionable" is that?

  2. For Nokia, Figure 4 of the 2020 report indicated approximately 2,300 patents from 500 patent families. In the 2022 report, however, those numbers are down to approximately 400 patents from 150 patent families (Figure 1). How can Nokia possibly have lost 5 out of 6 assets--and more than 2 out of 3 patent families--during a two-year timespan? Again, how is that "robust" and "actionable" short of a patent cliff of unprecedented proportions in the field of wireless communications technology? And how is it responsible to create such confusion around a key long-term growth area for a publicly traded company like Nokia?

I emailed Mr. Pohlmann before German office hours on Thursday, and received a reply a few hours later: a detailed email that for the most part sidesteps the issue I raised (the above discrepancies between the 2020 and 2022 reports). Only one paragraph really addresses my question, and Mr. Pohlmann (with whose company I signed an NDA a long time ago) authorized publication of his email, so let me quote:

"The smart home report from 2020 used a much simpler approach. Here only TS [technical specifications] that mention NB-IoT and LTE-M were identified to then connect this given list [of] TS to declared patents. So this report uses a keyword search in TS documents that have declared patents associated. The data approach of both reports are quite different. Also I must say that the number of declared patents has very much increased since July 2020."

The "much simpler approach" in 2020 did not dissuade IPlytics from publishing it (and declaring "winners") at any rate. If they say in 2022 that they've improved since the 2020 report, what will they tell us in 2024?

The last sentence about a massive increase in the number of declared patents (by the way, we're talking about subsets of the 4G standard, which is already quite mature by now) still doesn't explain why they published a list in 2020 (instead of immediately identifying an issue) without Huawei--the actual number one--among the top 10 patent owners. Mr. Pohlmann is a frequent speaker at SEP conferences, which in addition to his own company's patent database provides him with plenty of opportunity to get a feel for the market.

It is unfortunate that it is so hard to determine portfolio sizes in the narrowband IoT context. There are some companies who may only have a 1% or 2% share of all 4G/LTE SEPs, but their research may be disproportionately focused on parts of the standard that are relevant to its narrowband subsets (LTE-M and NB-IoT). Someone who is an average-sized fish in the larger pond may be a bigger fish in the smaller pond. Someone who filed for patents before those narrowband subsets were defined will not have used certain keywords in the claims or specification of a given patent application, but it may later read on NB-IoT and/or LTE-M anyway (false negatives under a keyword-based approach), while someone else may just have thrown in some keywords at a later stage, which doesn't guarantee that a given patent actually maps to the relevant specification of the standard.

IPlytics should be lower-key in its PR and marketing communications. That will lead to greater consistency. It's always better to underpromise and overdeliver, especially when there is the possibility of those reports being used in litigation or relied upon by policy makers and regulators.