The most recent call for an LTE patent pool came from the board of the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Ltd. Alliance at the end of August. The operator group issued a statement recommending that "all stakeholders in the mobile industry with an interest in developing an effective LTE patent pool accelerate its creation to avoid further delays within LTE licensing."
The NGMN board comprises representatives from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), China Mobile Communications Corp. , Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Orange (NYSE: FTE)'s Orange, SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), Telecom Italia (TIM) , Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) -- so it's a group with some clout.
But despite the size and influence of the operators behind the push for an LTE patent pool and the sense of urgency conveyed in the NGMN board's recommendation, several large manufacturers are less than enthusiastic about the idea.
Light Reading Mobile asked a few vendors -- namely, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) -- about their position on LTE patent pools, and here's what they said:
- "Given that Qualcomm is already licensing its LTE patents in bilateral agreements and followed a similar model with respect to 3G licensing, we do not intend to participate in an LTE patent pool," said Daniel Hermele, director IPR and licensing at Qualcomm Europe. "Other LTE patent owners may decide that it is in their best business interests to join a patent pool, but this should be their voluntary choice and not one imposed on them."
- "For multimode mobile phones, we don't think a pool will resolve the needs of our licensees in that market, but a pool could be considered for other types of products," said an Ericsson spokesman in an emailed response to questions. "We don't think it's too late for LTE patent pools, since those who stand the most to benefit from them would likely be new entrants on the market, who will enter in the time to come."
- "Patent pools have been explored in core wireless technologies for more than a decade with limited success," said a Nokia spokesman, via email. "Nokia has been actively engaged in direct licensing of our industry leading wireless portfolio, including LTE."
Part of the reason why a patent pool for LTE has struggled to come together -- the NGMN group has been working on this for at least two years -- is that the positions of all the different holders of IP for the wireless standard are too varied, so they cannot reach consensus regarding a pool, according to Florian Mueller, consultant and FOSS Patents blogger. (See LTE Group Seeks Patent Pool Info.)
"The interests are too disparate and divergent for those wireless standards to create a one-stop shop kind of pool," says Mueller. "The strategic interests of operators and IPR holders are increasingly at odds in many areas and that's reflected in [LTE patent pool efforts]."
But the operator-led NGMN group wants to see a patent pool for LTE technology set up as soon as possible, stressing that it would give "licensees a safe and efficient way to secure the necessary licenses and have reasonable, as well as predictable, IPR costs."
According to Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown, a patent pool would be good for the industry at large.
"[But] some players believe their patents are worth more than they would receive from a pooling arrangement and are holding out for more," says Brown. "This is unfortunate because it means overall IPR costs escalate and it discourages innovation, especially from smaller companies or those without a strong patent position."
The reluctance, and in some cases refusal, of some large vendors to join an LTE patent pool may not scupper the plans to create one. But it's not likely that such a patent pool will have as many of the industry players involved as some operators would like.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile