Friday, June 1, 2012

Digital Wallet Patent Landscape Primer

Digital Wallet Patent Landscape Primer
Digital wallet is a technology that facilitates fast and secure electronic transactions. This technology enables and enhances online and physical transactions using computers and portable devices like smart phones, or dedicated digital wallet devices.

In general, digital wallet technology can be broadly classified into the three segments: system, application, and device.  The system segment can be further broken down to two major sub segments viz. communications (device-to-payment point; device-to-device, etc.) and encryption technology.  The application segment includes technology such as payment services, online shopping, digital coupons, financial management, digital/electronic access, etc.  The device segment comprises the physical/hardware entity of the digital wallet. The device could be in the form of mobile phones, plastic cards, dongles, coupons, tokens, payment point (in-store kiosk), etc.

For brevity, this article provides a quick overview of the patent activities in the field of digital wallet communication technology. In general, digital wallet communication technology should be short ranged due to the proximity of the physical entity of the digital wallet and a payment point, low power consumption, and secure.  Digital wallet communication technologies that can be employed include:
Figure 1: Digital Wallet Communication Technology
Some of the questions this article intended to answer include what is the patent filing trend? Which particular communication technology dominates? Who are the major players? And which jurisdictions see the most filing?
Figure 2: Filing Trend across Jurisdictions 
Digital wallet communication technology filing trends across a selection of jurisdictions is presented in Figure 2 above.  As seen in Figure 2, in the U.S., after an initial burst of activity in the 2000, patent filings increased significantly from 2005-2009, with the peak of filing activity seen in 2008.  In Japan (JP), patent filing activity increased from 2005-2008, in China, patent filing activity increased from 2007-2009, with the peak of filing activity seen in 2009.  In Europe, patent filing activity increased from 2007-2008.


Figure 3: Technology Distribution based on Patent Filing
Digital wallet communication technology distribution based on patent filing is presented in Figure 3.  As seen in Figure 3, RFID (radio frequency identification) and NFC (near filed communication) are the most popular digital wallet communication technology in terms of patent filings.  Also, the analysis reveals that Bluetooth, SIM transactions, SMS, WAP and QR/Barcode-based digital wallet communication technology are also subject to significant patent activity.


Figure 4: Leading Assignees – Filing Trend

The leading assignees of the digital wallet communication technology related patents and applications are presented in Figure 4.  As seen in Figure 4, Nokia Corp., is an early player in the field with significant patent activity dating back to 1999, however, Nokia’s patent activity in this field has slowed down recently.  Sony Corp. is also a major player with a first burst of patent activity dating back to 2000 and a second burst of activity in 2008.  Other early assignee includes Ericson, IBM, JP Morgan, and Gemalto. There are several late entrant assignees that started their patent activity around 2008, for example, ZTE Corp. experienced a surge in patent activity in 2008.  Other assignees that started major filing activities around that time frame include First Data Corp., Boku Inc., and Toshiba Corp. 

Figure 5: Geographical Distribution

Figure 5 shows the jurisdiction distribution of the digital wallet communication technology patent activity.  As seen in Figure 5, Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) experienced the most amount of patent activity followed by the U.S., and Europe.  Not surprisingly, digital wallet technology is more widely accepted and implemented in Asia, while the technology is gaining popularity in the U.S. and Europe.
Digital wallet technology seeks to lighten our pockets and make physical fund transactions easier.  This article serves as a primer of the patent landscape of digital wallet technology, for more in-depth analysis and the complete patent landscape report, please contact us.

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