Apple has acquired a large number of patents related to the fourth-generation LTE mobile technology in order to prepare for possible legal disputes with archrival Samsung.
The Korean electronics giant, which recently lost to Apple in a patent suit at the Northern District Court of California, seems to have been planning to strike back using its patented LTE technologies.
LTE standard patents registered with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute show that Apple had no LTE patents last year but has now acquired 318 patents or 4.9 percent of total LTE patents to rank among the top 10 patent holders, the Korea Intellectual Property Office said Monday.
When the institute sets technological standards, companies notify it of the patents they have either applied for or already possess. LTE standard patents registered with ETSI increased 21.4 percent (1,139) in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.
Samsung Electronics had 819 (12.7 percent) to rank first, followed by the U.S. patent company InterDigital with 780 patents (12.1 percent). China's Huawei ranked fifth with 402 (6.2 percent).
Apple only developed 44 of it 318 LTE patents itself and bought the rest from Nortel and Freescale last year. Patent enforcement firm Rockstar Bidco, in which Apple holds a majority stake, owns another 116 LTE patents, giving Apple 434 in all.
"This shows that Apple has been taking strategic steps to acquire intellectual property to prepare for potential legal disputes before it launches its own LTE smartphones," said a KIPO official.
But industry insiders said it is undisclosed commercial patents, rather than disclosed standard technological patents, that play the key role in patent disputes, so it remains to be seen whether Apple has gained an advantage in the field.