Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

The Open Patent Alliance (OPA)'s two-year effort to create a patent pool for WiMax is nearly complete, which means it will soon be moving on to Long Term Evolution (LTE), but still without the support of one significant patent holder, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM).

The OPA was founded in 2008 to support the 4G movement to prevent legal battles and to keep 4G costs down for end users. It is now emerging from a year-long quiet period to promote its WiMax patent pool, set to be complete by the end of the year.

The group includes more than 20 members that span the wireless industry, including 4G service provider Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), hardware makers Acer Inc. and Samsung Corp. , networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and chipmaker Beceem Communications Inc.

Noticeably absent is Qualcomm, an important patent holder that remains disinterested in joining. One reason is that the networking giant is already looking toward LTE; however, it isn't supporting LTE patent pools either. In 2008, Qualcomm even joined forces with Nortel Networks Ltd. to oppose an LTE patent pool that formed around the same time as the OPA, saying that individual companies should be allowed to patent the technology on their own. (See Nortel's LTE Patent Goldmine.)

According to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) , as of April, Qualcomm owned 22 percent of the market for LTE patents. Qualcomm also holds a good majority of WiMax patents through its acquisition of orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) vendor Flarion Technologies.

The EBQ (Everybody But Qualcomm) group thinks that's unfair.

More importantly, it means Qualcomm's conspicuous absence could lead to the very courtroom showdowns that the OPA was created to avoid.

"Our concern was that as these ecosystems came together to compete on 4G, the legacies would cause conflict or misunderstanding and lead to litigation," Hahn says. "These things take time to resolve."

Hahn's reasoning goes on to say the cost of the litigation might ultimately be passed along to the end user, thus relegating 4G to the elite, often business users, not the mass market as intended. CE makers could be cut out of the equation if they couldn't absorb the rising costs. Competition wouldn't flourish and the whole ecosystem from the operators to equipment makers to consumers would suffer.

The OPA gives vendors one place for WiMax licenses, rather than contacting 20 companies individually, and it serves as a reference for prices. If a company tries to charge an inflated price for a patent -- something Qualcomm has been accused of -- the pool can put them in their place.

"Other than transactional efficiency, establishing this reference is the most important," Hahn says.

Looking toward LTE
The OPA started with WiMax because it was already two years in the making. When that pool is complete, Hahn says the OPA will move on to LTE -- but it won't be the only one.

In addition to the big LTE patent holders, which also include Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), three independent facilitators have already launched their own initiatives for LTE patents. In the interest of supporting one large reference point, rather than four disparate ones, Hahn says the OPA is working on merging the smaller efforts together. The OPA doesn't have to lead the charge, he says, as long as the pool is created. (See Who's Really Sitting on an LTE Goldmine? , The LTE Scraps From Nortel's Table, and Huawei Touts LTE Patents.)

"We are convinced that the three-horse race gets to two in the next few months, then down to one," he says. The other groups, Via Licensing, MPEG LA, and Sisvel, are in discussions to merge, but only Via Licensing is already working with the OPA on a licensing pool. The other two skipped WiMax and went straight to LTE on their own, Hahn says. (See Sisvel Likes LTE Patent Pool Proposal and LTE Group Seeks Patent Pool Info.)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:26:51 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

"According to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) , as of April, Qualcomm owned 22 percent of the market for LTE patents."

I'm no wireless patent expert, but it's more complex than this. What's claimed as an essential patent via submissions to ETSI are what individual companies say are essential patents. 

There's no third party to verify this and lots of firms use their ETSI submissions to make out that "ETSI says we have x% of essential patents". (I'm not saying Qualcomm does this; I think it's more sophisticated). In fact, ETSI has not examined the patent claims and endorsed them as essential or otherwise.

The only real way to determine what's an essential patent is through deep technical analysis. Very few organizations have the capability to do this.

I do know that mobile operators are not satisfied with the lack of clarity on LTE patent costs. It's viewed as a major issue, still.




Yung.Hahn 12/5/2012 | 4:26:50 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

This is Yung Hahn from the OPA. Great article, but I did want to provide a bit of clarity on a couple statements in the piece. First, regarding the statement that “The EBQ (Everybody But Qualcomm) group thinks (Qualcomm owning 22 percent of LTE patents is) unfair.” If by the EBQ group Ms. Reedy is implying the OPA, this not the case. We seek to establish a market reference point for the entire 4G industry, nothing more.

Second, Ms. Reedy points out “...Qualcomm's conspicuous absence could lead to the very courtroom showdowns that the OPA was created to avoid.” Again, we disagree. We have no plans for litigation of any kind or in any form. Arranging a patent pool that could serve as a market reference point for the rest of the 4G industry does not represent a target for litigation or even provide any reason to litigate. Participation in any patent pool created is 100 percent voluntary and non-exclusive.

alexglee 12/5/2012 | 4:26:50 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

Recently TechIPm LLC researched LTE patent portfolios for US market leader among LTE UE (cellular phones, smart phones, PDAs, mobile PCs, etc.) and base station (eNB) product manufactures. Total of 1250 LTE patents, issued and published applications in the US as of May 31 2010, are analyzed to find essential patent candidates for LTE RAN (Radio Access Network) standards. To evaluate the essentiality of a LTE patent, patent disclosures in claim and detail description for each LTE patent are compared to the final versions of the 3GPP Release 8 technical specifications. Total of 72 patents are identified as the potential candidates for LTE baseband modem essential IPR and total of 62 patents are identified as the potential candidates for LTE protocol SW essential IPR. As for the essential IPR share in baseband modem products, Qualcomm (27 %) is the leader followed by Samsung (18%), LG (18%), InterDigital (7%), Nokia (7%), Motorola (6%), and TI (6%) and as for the essential IPR share in protocol SW products, LG (43 %) is the leader followed by InterDigital (19%), Qualcomm (18%), and Nokia (16%) as of May 31 2010.

The top 5 IPR shareholders - InterDigital, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Samsung (total IPR share of 87%) - are appeared as the key member candidates for a successful LTE patent pool formation and operation.

Among the total of 134 identified patents as the potential candidates for LTE RAN essential IP only 7 candidates are the issued patents. As the prosecution for the published applications is an ongoing process, it is necessary to watch for a possible IP landscape change. A complete LTE RAN essential IP landscape is expected in two to three years as the current prosecution process for the published and unpublished pending patent applications are finished for a complete set of issued patent data pool.

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:26:50 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

Thanks Alex... Where does Ericsson fit? It is not mentioned at all in your post.

alexglee 12/5/2012 | 4:26:49 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

The research only considered the IP for UEs and eNBs Radio, not the infrastructure (EPC) products. Ericsson, NSN, A-L, Huawei may have essential IP in EPC products.

alexglee 12/5/2012 | 4:26:49 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

There were a few Ericsson's essential IPs, but Ericsson was not among the top IPR shareholders. The research only considered the essential IP for UEs ans eNBs radio, not the infrastructure products (EPC). If the IPs for EPC products are included, the IP landscape may be changed.

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:26:42 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

Phil Twist of NSN sent through a link (via Twitter) to a study by Fairfield Resources International on essential IPR analysis for LTE.

It's an "independent sponsored by Nokia" study (and upfront about this in the intro). It places Nokia at the top of the pile. Worth a read.


This underlines again that there's not much of common view across the industry on LTE IPR.

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:26:42 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

Yung Hahn -- does the OPA have a system for determining which patents are more or less important (have more or less value)?

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 4:26:42 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

Hi Alex, thanks for your reply. I find it hard to believe Ericsson is not among the top patent holders for the LTE radio interface.

Yung.Hahn 12/5/2012 | 4:26:36 PM
re: Patent Group Tackles 4G Sans Qualcomm

Hi Gabriel,
All patent pools are scoped or defined by two things:
  Industry standards established by recognized SDOs (standards development organizations),

  Essentiality, which is a legal test to determine whether a patent is required to practice a given industry standard.
As such, to participate in a patent pool, the patent owner must submit one or more patents to a confidential essentiality test performed by an independent patent evaluator and successfully pass the test by having at least one patent found to be essential in order to participate in the pool formation process.
In terms of value, all patent pools assign an equal value to all essential patents.  After all, if a patent is essential to the practice of a given industry standard, then all essential patents are the same: one cannot practice the standard without infringement.
Hope this answers your question.  Thanks.

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