New technologies could be developed into products more quickly if "patent pool" licensing programmes set up by the IEEE Standards Association are a success.
Companies contributing to any Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers technology standard will be encouraged to define and share a single "pooled" licence fee for all the intellectual property (IP) involved, instead of negotiating multiple separate fees, according to the announcement by the IEEE Standards Association, a significant source of standards for data networking - and the first formal standards body to set a patent pool programme.
The pools will be administered by Via Licensing Corporation, which already handles numerous patent pools, including one for the IEEE's 802.11 wireless LAN standards, and one for the AAC audio compression technology used in Apple's iPod.
The move could make IEEE standards cheaper and easier to implement, and possibly help standards such as WiMax (IEEE 802.16), which faces competition from LTE (Long Term Evolution), a mobile telecommunications standard. "We believe that there is likely a need for patent pools for both WiMax and LTE," said Jason Johnson, vice president of marketing and business development for Via.
"Nothing in the standards process is going to change," said Edward J. Rashba, director of new business ventures for the IEEE Standards Association. "Patent pooling becomes relevant after the standard has been approved, and will increase the speed to market."
"The number of patents filed is increasing, and so is the number of patent lawsuits," said Johnson. "We hear a lot about big lawsuits, but manufacturers have to deal with thousands of private transactions. Joint licensing problems reduce the cost and complexity as equipment makers have to write one cheque." The pools will include international patents for all countries where products are likely to be made.
"This kind of move by the IEEE could be a very clever one for the future," said patent attorney David Pearce, a contributor to the IPkat blog. "It might be a possible way of avoiding future litigation for anyone complying with an IEEE standard, provided all interested parties are informed about it in advance and given the chance to get their share of any licence fees for the proposed standard."
"This will create a level playing field for everyone," said Stefan Geyersberger, head of IP licensing for audio and multimedia, at the Fraunhofer Society, a German research organisation famous as creator of the MP3 compression technology. "If you have individual arrangements and no pool, it is hard to tell what you have to pay for a product."