Back to school with a look at mobile technology in education

05 September 2016

As most of the country gets set for the first day back at school today we thought it would be interesting to look at the role of mobile technology in education. The smart phone and tablet culture has been lambasted as contributing to the degradation of our children’s mental development. But what if there is a way in which we can utilise these shiny new gadgets to engage with the current generation and enhance their education? As always, a patent investigation can yield valuable clues.

A selected timeline of smartphones

2000 -  height of the PDA/Windows Pocket PC market and the first device marketed as a smartphone (Ericsson R380)

2007 – height of Nokia’s Symbian operating system with a focus on entertainment ‘apps’ as well as business uses

2008 – launch of the Apple App Store which saw a major shift in how mobile software was accessed and monetised. This year also saw the launch of the Android operating system.

2010 - launch of 1st generation iPad


A patent search in the field of education and mobile application was conducted and the resultant documents analysed.

Overall filing trends

Graph 1 - Applications by year

On the whole there is a clear rise in patent filings in this area, which is to be expected. Interestingly, the main spikes correspond to the significant product breakthroughs/achievements detailed above. There is a slight lull in filings due to the global economic downturn of recent years and the lack of mass market consumer wealth. However, as new products gain traction with the public, new opportunites are presented which prospective patentees are happy to turn to their advantage.

Top companies

The main companies in the field, having at least five applications in their portfolio that relate to mobile phone systems in education are summarised in the table below.

 Table 1 - Top companies

Samsung is the large multinational conglomerate headquartered in Seoul with around 23-24% worldwide market share of smartphones.

SK Telecom is South Korea’s largest wireless carrier. The data set includes its subsidiary SK Planet (E-Commerce / Marketing platform).

Social IT Pty is also known as Small World Social which focuses on using social media technology/applications.

Renaissance Learning has a number of teaching and assessment products.

The top companies have an interesting mix of specialities from the multinational conglomerate, handset developers, network carriers and niche education software companies.

Top jurisdictions

As you might expect from looking at the list of prominent companies, there is likely to be a strong emphasis in Asia but also a number of European jurisdictions together with the US and Australia. However, if we separate the data into the pre- and post-iPhone era, we see that current trends are squarely focussed in Asia and US.

Graph 2 - Top jurisdictions with at least 5 families from 1997 onwardGraph 2 - Top jurisdictions with at least 5 families from 2007 onwards

Subject analysis

An analysis of the results produced the following keyword wheel.

Graph 3 - Keyword wheelThe categories show the various technologies in play. The existence of SMS (short message service) long pre-dates the various app stores and internet based messaging services that are so prevalent today. Indeed, there are some interesting early uses of SMS in relation to monitoring attendance in Korea:

KR20050020442 details a system for managing attendance where a fingerprint is scanned to register the attendance and confirmation is sent by SMS to the student.

KR20050023994 takes the concept a little further and will inform the parent’s mobile phone that the student has passed through the school gates.

US2008272905, assigned to Panasonic, uses the mobile telephone to register attendance for a particular lecture via a dedicated mobile application. The software will also have access to the camera to confirm the student is actually in attendance and not just their handset! 

Using the technology to combat truancy is obviously a useful feature but how can we use the devices to improve the learning experience? This is where some of the more niche firms come to prominence. US9240127 (Active Learning Solutions Holdings Ltd) describes a system for interactive classroom learning through the use of a mobile device for each student and a cloud/central server system. 

Image 1

US2014272894 (Edulock Inc) uses a reward system to unlock new features on their device if the student correctly answers certain test questions.

Turning now to the Samsung powerhouse, a new system for an augmented reality classroom is discussed in US2014098138. Using the mobile phone, the teacher can capture an image of the classroom to determine which students are present via facial recognition and then access their previous records. As a result, teachers will never forget your name or your last test score. Image 2

The main emphasis of the older filings has been directed towards university students, as, naturally, this demographic was more likely to have their own mobile device. One of SK Planet’s latest filings (EP2953293) is directed towards kindergarten/child-care centres and provides a method for parent/teacher communication via near-field-communication (NFC) cards. It would appear that the ubiquitous mobile handset will have its part to play in improving the education system straight from an early age.

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There is a clear rise in patent filings in the area of education and mobile applications which, as expected, coincides with the emergence and growth of the smartphone and tablet industry. Early mobile applications during the SMS-era saw patents filed for monitoring attendance with a view to combatting truancy. As technology has developed, so too has the potential to use mobile devices to improve the education experience, be that through interactive classroom learning or online reward systems. There is also evidence of a shift in the assumed user of mobile applications within education, the focus initially being on university students. Today there is a broader market for smartphones and tablets, and with that, a greater opportunity for them to be used as tools for the enhancement of education.    

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Lisa Williams

Lisa Williams


Our Expert
Lisa Williams
Lisa Williams
Location: Bristol (UK) The Netherlands (NL)

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