Ericsson CTO: Patent pools face challenge

Tue, 06/23/2009 - 8:30am
Monica Alleven, Wireless Week

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Even if multiple efforts to form a patent pool for Long Term Evolution turn into one (story here), that effort will face its challenges.

Generally, it’s difficult to form successful patent pools because you need most everybody in the pool. If somebody with a lot of patent rights stays out, it’s difficult to make it work, said Ericsson CTO Hakan Eriksson. He didn’t say whether Ericsson is committed to staying out, but it doesn’t sound like the company, which may hold anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent of LTE patents, is jumping in head first.

As the industry matures, wireless patent fights likely will become less frequent among the big players. Many companies already have settled long-standing litigation. The real problem, he says, lies in patent trolls, or those that hold a patent but don’t do anything with it until they want a piece of the action. 

Eriksson’s comments came during an interview at Ericsson’s first-ever Business Innovation Forum, where about 120 journalists are gathered at Ericsson’s headquarters to learn more about the company beyond its traditional infrastructure role.

CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg kicked off the two-day conference, noting Ericsson’s longevity in the industry. Back in 1991, a Swedish newspaper questioned who really needed a wireless phone. Now, 4 billion users are mobile users, and the mobile phone has changed the world. Then along came 3G with much hype, and nobody knew what to use it for. Now everybody uses the Internet, and the mobile Internet opens the world even more.

That point, more or less, came up again during a presentation by Professor Kristina Hook of the Mobile Life Center at Stockholm University, who explained that rather than just doing behavioral studies, the center’s philosophy is to let people create services on their own.

She demonstrated how a sensor system on her body uses Bluetooth to transmit information like a pulse during tense situations, like public speaking. “People take this … and find patterns in their own life. I can find these patterns that make sense to me, and I can adjust behavior accordingly.”

After a weekend that included iPhone 3GS sales topping 1 million (story here), the event couldn’t go without a question or two about the iPhone, even though the conference is Ericsson-centric rather than focusing on phone maker Sony Ericsson, which has a more limited presence at the event.

Asked why it took someone outside of the industry like Apple to create something as successful and user-friendly as the iPhone, Eriksson noted that Apple’s mode of operation was to not listen strictly to the operator, which historically has driven U.S. handset makers’ products. Instead, Apple initially set forth with a $500 device, ignoring long-time industry warnings that a device wouldn’t sell at that price point. (He also noted that iPhone volumes are still small compared with the entire handset market.)

Hook added that the iPhone allowed designers that are in contact with real people to be in charge, and the designers at other handset makers are now getting more power in their endeavors as a result.

Meanwhile, an Ericsson spokesman said he could not comment on any interest the company might have in what’s left of Nortel, including its GSM business. Last Friday, Nortel announced a stalking horse agreement with Nokia Siemens Networks to acquire its CDMA and LTE assets (story here), the latter of which is presumed to consist mostly of patents.

Ever since Nortel went into bankruptcy protection in January, speculators have suggested Ericsson, one of the few remaining large infrastructure players, would buy all or parts of Nortel.

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•  Nokia Siemens, Juniper, attend to IP-optical networking
•  Ericsson CTO: Patent pools face challenge
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•  Advisory firm backs Emulex board in Broadcom bid
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