Standards are important but poorly understood. Technology standards in particular enable the modern networked global economy to function. Within these technology standards, however, are hundreds or thousands of separate patent-protected technologies.

This paper first defines technology standards and standards-essential patents (SEPs), and the roles they play in determining markets for technology goods and services. It then turns to two case studies. The first looks at the role that SEPs played in early mobile telecommunications standards in Europe and the United States. This case shows the manner in which hard enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights shaped the markets for these technologies. The second case study examines two standardization efforts in China, highlighting the challenge that licensing fees for SEPs pose to Chinese firms and the efforts made in Chinese standardization to change the norms governing IP in standards. The paper then concludes with implications for the future of SEP norms and public policy-governing standards.

Part of Series

The Global Commission on Internet Governance was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. The two-year project conducts and supports independent research on Internet-related dimensions of global public policy, culminating in an official commission report that will articulate concrete policy recommendations for the future of Internet governance.
  • Michael Murphree is an assistant professor of international business in the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. Michael’s primary research interests include globalization, industrialization and economic upgrading, innovation in emerging economies, technology standards and intellectual property rights. His research considers China in a comparative perspective with other emerging economies and the developed West. He has four years of field research experience in China and speaks fluent Mandarin. 

  • Dan Breznitz is a professor and Munk Chair of Innovation Studies and the co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab in the Munk School at the University of Toronto. Dan is known worldwide as an expert on rapid-innovation-based industries and their globalization, as well as for his pioneering research on the distributional impact of innovation policies. He has been an adviser on science, technology and innovation policies to multinational corporations, governments and international organizations, in addition to serving on several boards.