LONDON The trade association representing the interests of mobile phone operators, GSM Association (GSMA), has urged industry to increase the transparency around intellectual property rights related to new technology standards.
In a hard hitting statement Thursday (Dec. 14) the Association suggested standards bodies should follow the lead of ETSI which is making significant changes to its policy and procedures to reduce the uncertainty surrounding intellectual property rights (IPR).
ETSI has decided to strengthen its policy and is streamlining the declaration process. The standards body, based in Sophia Antopolis, France, is also introducing safeguards that will enable IPR holders to voluntarily declare the terms and conditions attached to their IPR ahead of the standardisation of a new technology.
ETSI has also declared that it will no longer be mandatory for the organization to select technologies purely on the basis of their technical merits and regardless of other considerations.
The issue came to a head as standards bodies started looking at the IP costs related to the next generation radio standard, LTE, or Long Term Evolution. ETSI suggested capping the IP rights for this emerging technology to between 3 and 5 percent of the cost of all LTE gear.
This followed complaints earlier this year from major operators over the rising costs of equipment that they claim was the consequence of hidden IPR licensing costs.
A group of operators led Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and KPN threatened to hold patent holders to ransom by delaying finalization of standards until the IPR issues were solved. They went as far as to declare that if suppliers did not sign up to the proposed agreement, they would lobby to not use their patents in the standard.
Commenting on the GSMA's changes, Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer of the group said: "As the underlying technologies in mobile telecommunications become more intricate, there is a danger that excessive cumulative licence fees for the use of intellectual property will slow, or even prevent, the adoption of new technologies within the worldwide mobile operator community. The changes announced by ETSI will reduce that danger. Other standards bodies should consider taking similar steps to create a less unpredictable commercial environment around new standards."
To back up its new stance, ETSI has created a permanent IPR Committee that will meet when significant IPR-related issues arise.
IPR licensing has long been dogged by complaints that the industry's patent regime is unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory. A group of vendors including Ericsson, Nokia, Texas Instruments and Broadcom have previously filed complaints with the European Commission to investigate the WCDMA licensing practices of Qualcomm.
The move alleges that Qualcomm infringed IPR rules by trying to exclude chipset manufacturers from the market and preventing others from entering by charging excessive and disproportionate royalties for its essential WCDMA patents.