Technology Innovation: An Interview with Liren Chen President and Chief Executive Officer of InterDigital 

Technology Innovation An Interview with Liren Chen President and Chief Executive Officer of InterDigital

September 19, 2023

In this interview, Marco Richter, Global Head of Customer Success LexisNexis® Intellectual Property Solutions, speaks with Liren Chen, President and Chief Executive Officer of InterDigital. For 50 years, InterDigital® has been inventing foundational wireless and video technologies that have become essential to daily life and enable the next generation of connected ecosystems. The company frequently ranks highly in patent benchmarks of various technology areas and is featured in our report “Innovation Momentum 2023: The Global Top 100”.   

Lawrence (Liren) Chen has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of InterDigital since 2021, when he was also appointed to the Board of Directors. Mr. Chen joined the company from Qualcomm Inc. (“Qualcomm”) where he worked for almost 25 years, most recently serving as Senior Vice President, Global Head of IP, Legal Counsel.  

Mr. Chen holds 28 granted patents in the U.S. and over 120 granted patents worldwide. He earned his bachelor’s degree in automation from Tsinghua University, Beijing; his M.S.E.E. from the University of Maine; his M.B.A. from San Diego State University; and his J.D. degree from the University of San Diego. Mr. Chen is a member of the State Bar of California. 

Marco: Could you briefly describe InterDigital and its mission?  

Liren: We are a research company that conducts foundational research primarily in advanced wireless, video, and AI technologies. Our work helps power what we refer to as next generation connected ecosystems that increasingly depend on a blend of innovation, such as cellular wireless and more sophisticated and efficient video compression, to deliver evermore immersive experiences. More than half of our employees are engineers, and the majority of them are inventors, and many of them play central roles developing the technologies that billions of us use every day. Since our founding 50 years ago, research and innovation have been our life blood. The way that we generate a return from the painstaking work of our engineering teams is through licensing our patent portfolio of more than 28,000 assets.  

Marco: As a technology development company, how does InterDigital continue to “stay ahead of the curve” for now over 50 years?  

Liren: We hire some of the best talent in the industry and operate multiple research centers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. One of the critical aspects of our business is that we’re innovating five to ten years before our technologies will be implemented in consumer devices and services. For example, our engineers were working on 5G almost a decade before the standard was finalized in 2018, so, in a way, we’re making bets on which technologies are likely to prove successful, commercially viable, and, ultimately, most effective at making connectivity even more seamless. That may sound daunting, but our engineers have been working in these industries for many years, have taken numerous leadership roles in the global standards system and in various industry bodies, and have developed a deep understanding of which direction connected technologies are likely to take. That helps inform our research and, in turn, our patent strategy, allowing us to stay well ahead of the curve. 

Marco: We frequently see InterDigital rank high in patent benchmarks of various technology areas, and certainly again in this year’s (2023) Innovation Momentum Report, which shows us the recent impact of a company’s innovations. What role do patents play for InterDigital?

Liren: When I talk to employees, to investors, and to other stakeholders I like to talk about the cycle that drives our business. To summarize, it runs like this: Our engineers conduct research; the best of our inventions are then patented; where applicable we collaborate with our peers and make contributions to certain technology standards; and we then license all or parts of our patent portfolio to many of the world’s leading smartphone and consumer electronics companies, automakers, and a growing universe of other connected device manufacturers when they build products in compliance with certain standards. We then re-invest a large chunk of our revenue—more than 20% since 2000—in our research. So, intellectual property, particularly patents, is essential to what we do and how we operate as a business—patents are the bridge between our foundational innovation and how we generate our revenue via licensing. 

Marco: How do you ensure that your patent strategy fits with your overall business strategy? 

Liren: Given the nature of our business, our patent strategy plays a central role in our overall business goals. We own one of the world’s largest patent portfolios, but we also know that we’re smaller than some other innovators in cellular wireless and video. Our business strategy, therefore, calls for not only the critical mass that you need to operate a successful licensing business—one that generated more than $400 million in revenue in 2021—but also a very high-quality portfolio. This enables us to stand out from our peers and to demonstrate to existing and prospective licensees how our patented innovations are fundamental to their devices. Ultimately the proof is in our license agreements, and our licensing success. Recently we’ve agreed on multiple deals with a contract value of more than $1.5 billion which clearly demonstrates that we’re doing a good job in ensuring that a patent strategy focused on high-quality IP supports our business goals. 

Marco: Which role does patent analytics play at InterDigital to maintain and develop its top patent portfolio, and to identify and evaluate future technologies?

Liren: We are constantly monitoring all aspects of our portfolio—from its size to which jurisdictions we file in—and monitoring what I will call our patent prosecution pipeline.  

We also keep very close tabs on those companies that are in our peer group, be it for a technology like 5G or the various video compression standards. This is where patent analytics can play an important role, in benchmarking our portfolio against other companies’ patents. For example, we have used LexisNexis® PatentSight® to study the strength of our 5G and our VVC codec portfolios and have found that we lead the way in terms of quality for 5G and come second for VVC.  

This kind of analytics can be incredibly helpful because some poorly informed analyses of various patent landscapes rely far too much on simple patent counting. We have seen this particularly in relation to 5G where headlines have been written about who is leading the “5G race” based simply on which companies own the most patents. I would argue that any assessment about which innovators lead the way, should place the most weight on the quality of a portfolio not its size. My hope is that more advanced analytics platforms can help to inform broader conversations about the nature and direction of innovation.  

Marco: Thank you very much, Liren 

About the Innovation Momentum 2023: The Global Top 100 Report 

The world will always need innovators. To understand why, you need to look no further than today’s shifts in global health, economics, and geopolitics. Digitalization is accelerating, the global population is aging rapidly, and the legislative landscape continues to evolve. With disruption everywhere, the spirit of innovation is critical if we are to turn lemons into lemonade.  

The Innovation Momentum 2023: The Global Top 100 Report reflects this spirit. Using a methodology based on the Patent Asset Index—an objective measure of global technological strength—the Top 100 presents the companies, industries, and regions leading the charge. With five industries dominating the list— Pharmaceuticals, Information Technologies, Chemicals and Materials, Electronics, and Semiconductors—it becomes clear that global challenges prompt innovation. 

With constant change, it is hard to predict where we will see creative ingenuity appear next. Using the power of patent analytics, we can track Innovation Momentum with objectivity and accuracy.  Get the report

Which companies are pioneering the future of science and technology?

Download Innovation Momentum 2023: The Global Top 100 to find out! Using our proprietary patent quality metrics to look at the global patent landscape we list out the Top 100 innovators worldwide. Read the full report to discover which companies are at the forefront of innovation, driving future technologies.

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