Recent years have seen large-scale litigation of standard-essential patents between companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, Motorola and Microsoft. Such patents are particular because they are, by definition, indispensable to any company wishing to implement a technical standard. Firms that do not own such patents are prepared to spend billions of dollars purchasing them. It is an interesting question how firms obtain such patents in the first place, and to what degree this depends on those firms’ strategies at the time of standardization. This paper presents an in-depth investigation on the standardization process of the successful W-CDMA and LTE standards for mobile telecommunications. We studied the first 77 meetings where these standards took shape, covering a period of over 12 years, and identified the patenting behavior of each of the 939 individual participants attending these meetings, as well as the patenting behavior by non-participants, together resulting in over 14,000 patents for this technology. Our data reveals a strong relationship between patent timing and the occurrence of meetings. We observed a remarkable phenomenon that we call ‘just-in-time-inventions’: the patent intensity of about-to-become claimed essential patents is much higher during or just before these meetings than in other periods. At the same time, they are of considerably lower technical value (‘merit’). This suggests that the just-in-time inventions are only beneficial to their owners, whereas for the public they merely invoke unnecessary costs. Finally, we observed that the phenomenon of just-in-time inventions is highly concentrated among specific types of firms, above all vertically integrated ones, and the incumbent champions of the previous technology standard. We believe our findings have several implications for standard setting organizations and policy makers alike.
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