The Impact of Patent Wars on Firm Strategy: Evidence from the Global Smartphone Market
Executive Summary — Patents and patent enforcement strategies have become an essential part of firms' competitive strategies: They are used as isolating mechanisms to protect intellectual property or as defense mechanisms to help obtain access to external innovations. Using data from the global smartphone market, the authors of this paper investigate the effect of escalated patent litigations—the so-called patent war—on firm strategy. The smartphone industry is a classic example of a business ecosystem, as participants in this industry are highly interconnected and this interconnectivity means that effects on some ecosystem participants are likely to extend to affect the rest. The authors' findings show that the efficacy of patent enforcement systems across markets plays a significant role in firm strategy during patent wars, and ultimately shapes the global competitive landscape. As the patent war intensifies, smartphone vendors, even those not directly involved in patent litigations, gradually shift their business foci to markets with weaker intellectual property (IP) rights protection. This shift, however, is attenuated for vendors with stronger technological capabilities and is more pronounced for vendors whose home markets have weak IP systems. Together, these changes shape the competitive landscape for platform competition. Key concepts include:
- This study enhances our understanding of patents, patent enforcement strategies, and the dynamics of patent wars in platform competition.
- Patent strategy and its enforcement are becoming increasingly important for value appropriation by innovators, similar to marketing and pricing.
- Firms use markets with strong IP protection as a natural battleground for their patent enforcement strategies, which leads to increased litigation risk for other participants in those markets.
- As the patent war intensifies, smartphone vendors focus their businesses more on markets with weak IP protection than on those with strong IP protection, even when they are not involved in patent litigation themselves. This effect is more pronounced for vendors with weak technological capabilities, and vendors that come from countries with weak IP systems.
- Consistent with the shift at the vendor level, Android market share grows faster in weak IP countries than in strong IP countries as the patent war intensifies. Interestingly, this result suggests that the patent war intended to hamper the proliferation of Android phones may have merely shifted the sales of Android phones to weak IP countries. Consequently, the Android system has flourished in weak IP countries.
We examine how patent wars affect firm strategy. We hypothesize that, as patent wars intensify, firms shift their business foci to markets with weak intellectual property (IP) protection due to increased litigation risks. This shift is attenuated for firms with stronger technological capabilities and is more pronounced for firms whose home markets have weak IP systems. Using data from the global smartphone market, we find support for these hypotheses. Interestingly, we also find that the patent war intended to hamper the growth of the Android platform may have merely shifted the sales to weak IP countries. This study sheds light on the emerging patent enforcement strategy literature by highlighting the heterogeneity in the efficacy of national patent systems in explaining firm strategy in platform-based markets.