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5G

Can Sisvel bring unity to the 5G patent landscape?

After a decade of work, Via Licensing announced it will shutter its wireless patent pool, which stretched from 3G to 5G. The move leaves Sisvel as the last big remaining patent pool in the cellular industry, just as the market's transition to 5G catches on.

Via Licensing also agreed to join and contribute its patents to the 5G patent pool that Sisvel is developing. Sisvel plans to release the details of its own 5G plans by September. The company said its 5G patent pool "hopefully" will include its existing partners alongside "many new Via patent owners that will be willing to join the pool. This pool will exclusively focus on the consumer electronics market for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, and will not target the automotive nor the IoT market."

Some industry observers believe Sisvel is relatively well positioned for success. "As someone who closely monitors cellular SEP [standard-essential patent] litigation and licensing, I would be surprised if 'migration' from Via's defunct pool to Sisvel's more successful one didn't happen on a substantial scale," wrote Florian Mueller, an intellectual property expert who maintains the Foss Patents website.

Ten years gone

Via Licensing in 2012 announced its 4G patent pool with AT&T, HP, Clearwire, Docomo, SK Telecom, Telefónica and others. Just one month later, Sisvel launched a competing pool with the likes of Orange, KPN Telecom and others, anchored by around 500 patents it acquired from Nokia.

Although Via Licensing showed progress roughly five years ago with the addition of other participants, including Lenovo, Verizon and Conversant – after it lowered its rates – the company late last month said it would shutter its pool to refocus on its AAC and MPEG-H audio codec patent programs. IAM, a patent-monitoring publication, first reported the development.

"For us, it is just about the transition of leaving a business that has not been as financially successful as our other programs and focusing on things that are a better fit for our business," Via Licensing's new president, Heath Hoglund, told the publication.

Sisvel immediately pounced on the development. "Sisvel is in the process of initiating discussions with Via pool members regarding joining the Sisvel 5G pool," the company said in a statement last week. "Sisvel feels that a single pool incorporating key patents from the Via and Sisvel pools will create more value for licensees and accelerate adoption by 5G implementers. This, in turn, will accelerate royalty revenue back to the patent owners and enable further innovation for future cellular generations."

Sisvel Group President Mattia Fogliacco told IAM that Via members would receive a special, unspecified rate to join – but only for a limited time. "Founding member shares are given only to the people that were here in the very beginning, but we have made these available also to the Via patent owners, if they decide to quickly join us, to reduce completely the barriers to entry," he said. "We do not want them to feel like they are Class B patent owners."

It's worth noting that, during the past year, Sisvel has successfully closed several cellular licensing agreements with major players like Samsung, Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo – moves that likely put the final nails in Via's coffin.

To 5G and beyond

Patent pools work to collect all of the patents for a given technology so that new market entrants can quickly obtain the rights to build new products. Such pools have successfully been set up in other tech sectors, but have struggled in the global wireless industry because patent heavyweights like Nokia, Ericsson, InterDigital and Qualcomm have preferred to license their patents via one-to-one deals. Ericsson and Apple are sliding into a potentially significant courtroom clash over the value of their respective 5G patents.

However, there is some precedent for unity in the market. According to IAM, Ericsson, Nokia, InterDigital and Qualcomm have all joined the Avanci patent pool, which launched four years ago to focus on licensing patents into the automotive and Internet of Things (IoT) space. (Sisvel and Via Licensing have focused on smartphones and mobile devices specifically.) Avanci – which includes a focus on 5G specifically – recently has been reporting increased traction in the space, particularly among big automotive companies like Volkswagen AG. That's likely why Sisvel specifically said its forthcoming 5G patent pool "will not target the automotive nor the IoT market."

The exit of Via Licensing from the cellular industry also comes during a period of upheaval. Earlier this year, the Alium patent pool launched to target open RAN technology.

Separately, the Senate recently confirmed Kathi Vidal, a Silicon Valley patent attorney, as the new director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, amid calls for an overhaul of the nation's approach to patents in general.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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