SAN FRANCISCO – Via Licensing will roll out in the next few months a patent pool for 4G LTE cellular technology with more than 20 members including AT&T. The effort comes as two other LTE licensing efforts are said to have fizzled.
A growing number of patents, patent holders and law suits is threatening the health of the mobile industry, said panelists debating the issue at the NGMN Alliance conference here. Experts are mixed about how much the new pool will help. Even proponents of the pool said the industry also needs to define reasonable licensing terms, especially for patents essential to standards.
“We have manufacturers, carriers and others from around the world participating” in the new LTE pool, said Roger Ross, president of Via in a brief interview at the NGMN Alliance conference here.
The group is now in final review of flat-rate licensing terms it will offer. Exactly who are members of the pool and what patents they have remains confidential.
As many as 3,000 LTE patents have been identified to date, about twice the number as exist for 3G, said Luigi Licciardi, head of technology planning for telecom Italia, speaking in the panel discussion. “At least 50 percent of the patents in an area are needed to make a patent pool succeed, and there needs to be just one patent pool in a given area,” he said.
The Via pool “is the best thing that has been done in the wireless industry ever and I think it will bring about more consolidation once it gets going,” said Joe Alfred, director of patent licensing and sales at AT&T.
“A patent pool inverts the process of stacking patents,” in which multiple companies each try to claim a share of royalties for a single function,” said Alfred. “But patent pools don’t solve all problems,” he added.
An effort to create an LTE patent pool by the MPEG Licensing Authority has fizzled said two sources here. Separately Nokia has backed out of a separate effort operated by Sisvel.
Nokia is not taking part in the Via pool. Instead it will focus on asserting its patents on its own, said Jari Vaario, director of standards IP at Nokia, another panel member.
“Today we see too many companies that don’t want to take a license,” said Vaario. “They don’t want to pay anything, and others have spent billions on technology and standards development,” he said.
“I don’t believe patent pools are solving the stacking problem,” Vaario added. “If you have a pool for every standard in a smartphone, you wind up charging two percent of the phone’s value 100 times” due to the number of functions packed in a handset, he said.
Nokia files as many as a thousand patent applications a year, he said
Research in Motion has not decided whether it will join the Via pool. “Patent pools in theory sound great, and in some industries they work,” said Sarah Guichard, vice president for patents and standards at RIM.
“We are seeing a lot of patent wars and assertions causing a lot of chaos,” Guichard said. “I feel like we are kind of in the middle of it, and I don’t see the outcome,” she said.
“It’s a good time if you are a lawyer because there’s a lot of work, but unfortunately if you are a manufacturer it’s a scarey time because you are not sure who will come out of the woodwork,” she said.
RIM was involved in one of the first big mobile patent battles, losing a $650 million dollar decision to a small patent owner on a dispute about mobile email patents.
“The industry has to find a better way to deal with patents because the patent wars today are getting to be a mess,” said Donglin Chen, chief technology officer for ZTE’s wireless group.
RIM is still debating whether it will take part in Via's LTE pool said Sarah Guichard.