The Open Patent Alliance has formally launched their WiMAX patent pool effort after a year of planning with industry heavyweights, including Alcatel-Lucent, Alvarion and Cisco.
The OPA issued a call for patents essential to WiMAX technology and appointed Via Licensing to administer the pool. Via Licensing is also coordinating one of three separate Long Term Evolution patent pool efforts.
“4G is really going to be about mobile Internet … and it takes a lot of device diversity to make the business case,” says Yung Hahn, president of the OPA. “We needed to get the ecosystems together to make 4G viable.”
Hahn says that the patent processes in separate areas of the WiMAX ecosystem are very different, making litigation over patent infringement, licensing and intellectual property rights highly likely. The key to avoiding an endless stream of legal scuffles, says Hahn, is a patent pool.
The OPA believes that a WiMAX patent pool could be an important step to speeding global adoption of the technology by lowering the costs of adopting WiMAX and creating legal precedents for intellectual property rights disputes.
The OPA needs to attract a critical mass of essential WiMAX patents to its effort, which has already attracted the likes of Clearwire, Huawei, Intel and Samsung Electronics, as well as the aforementioned Alcatel-Lucent, Alvarion and Cisco.
OPA president: LTE patent pool effort must change
In many ways, LTE is viewed as WiMAX’s smarter and more attractive sibling. LTE has been adopted by wealthy, high-profile industry heavyweights, while WiMAX found its niche in less-glamorous areas, like emerging markets in remote corners of the globe.
But when it comes to patent pools, it looks like WiMAX could gain the upper hand because the waters of the LTE patent pooling effort are muddled by three competing players: Sisvel, VIA Licensing and MPEG LA. The firms all received separate requests from LTE patent holders to issue a call for patents.
And that, says Hahn, is a problem that could hinder the whole LTE ecosystem.
“Our concern is that if you end up with three patent pools, not a single pool is going to be able to achieve critical mass because you’ve fragmented that space,” says Hahn.
Hahn, who was instrumental in forging the WiMAX patent pool effort, says patent pools have the potential to spur innovation and speed adoption of new technology by helping the industry avoid cumbersome legal lending predictability and transparency to the legal process. That is, if they’re done right.
“For the health of the industry, we’d like to see the three collapse into one,” Hahn says. “We’d like to see the LTE ecosystem make an honest effort and not let intellectual property rights become a barrier to the industry.”
Interestingly, the three companies competing for the LTE patent pool all agree with Hahn. Via Licensing, which was chosen by the Open Patent Alliance to administer their WiMAX patent pool effort, calls the multiple LTE patent pool efforts a “common concern” in the technological community.
“It only makes sense that there’s a single pool for this complex technology,” says John Ehler, director of licensing programs at Via Licensing. “You can’t just have three companies with an open patent call and expect the industry to solve it.”
“From an industry perspective, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that there cannot be three licensing administrators,” says Via Licensing spokesman Jason Johnson. “They can’t each have a critical mass to justify three separate efforts.”
Sisvel also sides with Via Licensing and Hahn. Sean Corey, CDMA2000 program manager at Sisvel, said he was not surprised by the multiple LTE patent calls, but called a single patent pool the “best solution for both licensors and licensees of essential LTE patents.”
“Sisvel fully appreciates that multiple efforts to start a patent pool generate confusion in the market and have the potential to jeopardize the creation of one strong patent pool,” Corey said in an e-mailed response.
MPEG LA was succinct in its opinion of the matter: “We believe there will be a single pool, and it will be administered by MPEG LA.”
However, none of the companies have plans to back down from their efforts for the sake of the industry, and for now it remains unlikely that the LTE patent pool will have a unified front any time soon. The resulting confusion will stall the progress of LTE’s joint licensing effort, Hahn says.
He compares the WiMAX patent pool effort and the LTE patent pool effort to the story of the tortoise and the hare: “While it may appear that the tortoise has gotten the head start, I’m confident that [WiMAX] will be the one finishing first.”