Rakuten Inc. – Japan’s E-commerce Contender

Rakuten is a leading Japanese B2B and B2C e-commerce company, founded by Hiroshi Mikitani in 1997. The company introduced its first internet shopping mall, Rakuten Ichiba, which is now the largest e-commerce site in Japan and one of the biggest internet companies in the world. The company has diversified into electronic money, Internet banking, credit card services, securities, eBooks, online marketing, professional sports, portal media and travel.

Rakuten keeps technological development at the forefront of its activities and provides services in line with its business tenet for “the empowerment of individuals and society through the Internet.” The company is expanding its global outreach by entering foreign markets through acquisitions and joint ventures. Rakuten is also known to be among the world’s most prolific patent buyers. We take a closer look at Rakuten’s patent assets in this week’s report.

General Trends

Figure 1: Published Applications – Growth [Click on image to enlarge]

Figure 1 shows a significant upward trend after 2010 in the overall number of published patents. Post 2016, there is a decline in the publication trend for Rakuten. The patenting activity peaks in 2014 with 553 publications.


Figure 2: Key Geographies [Click on image to enlarge]

The U.S. and Japan are the favoured filing destinations for Rakuten, as seen in Figure 2. Each jurisdiction accounts for a third of its total active published applications.








Technology Trends

Rakuten operates in around 70 businesses spanning across credit cards, travel and tourism, a golf-reservation system, e-ecommerce, insurance and many more. The company owns a calling and messaging app called Viber and has made considerable investments in Lyft, the car-hailing service. It is now launching the Rakuten Mobile Network and is working to build a virtualized, end-to-end cloud-native mobile network. In this connection it plans to use technology from Qualcomm.

Figure 3: Topic Map – Concepts [Click on image to enlarge]

Figure 3 is a Topic Map of the top technologies (based on key concepts) covered by Rakuten’s portfolio. In the figure, the size of a bubble corresponds to the total number of patent applications for a technology category. The bubble proximity corresponds to the similarity or “relatedness” of the individual technology categories.

The technologies covered by the CPC code G06Q 30/02 (E-Commerce) displayed an increased year-on-year growth till around 2013, but the growth has tapered off in recent years. About 50% of Rakuten’s active patent portfolio comprises of technologies that can be tagged under ‘Digital Data Processing’.


Figure 4: Patent Quality by Sub-technologies [Click on image to enlarge]

Figure 4 shows that Rakuten’s portfolio has an average Relecura Star rating of 2.31 out of 5. Typically, a patent with a Relecura Star rating of 3 or more is deemed as one of high-quality. The Relecura Star rating ranks each patent on a scale of five. It is a proprietary composite metric incorporating multiple criteria. The metric combines different technology, business, and litigation related factors. The report lists the top sub-technologies covered by the high-quality patents.

In 2018, Walmart entered into a strategic alliance with Rakuten. Under the terms of the partnership, Walmart will help Rakuten launch an online grocery service in Japan, while in the U.S., Walmart will promote the sales of Rakuten’s Kobo e-readers, e-books, and audiobooks.

The detailed report also includes a competitor analysis for Rakuten. The company’s patent assets are compared across key technology categories against other e-commerce majors like Alibaba, Amazon, Ebay and Walmart.

Read the complete report here.

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