Alliance strives for predictable WiMAX costs
The Open Patent Alliance, a group formed last year to create an intellectual property rights framework for WiMAX technology, announced a call for patents with the intention of creating a pool of essential WiMAX patents.
Yung Hahn, president of the OPA, said such a move would ensure a fair and transparent IPR licensing structure to help drive global demand for WiMAX. The group has selected Via Licensing to create and facilitate the pool on behalf of the OPA.
The wireless industry, however, has been dominated by an IPR regime that calls for bilateral licensing agreements, and big players such as Qualcomm and Motorola have indicated they will continue to license 4G technology — WiMAX and LTE — in this manner. Still, Hahn said the OPA’s own research says a patent pool alongside bilateral agreements can still give the WiMAX industry more predictable costs when it comes to IPR — which is important to local governments considering WiMAX deployments in the 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz bands, the latter of which is essentially license free.
“We started with the notion that we need to prove bilateral agreements aren’t the only solution and could actually be very beneficial,” Hahn said. “We want to show the world that under certain circumstances this will work and add value.”
The OPA’s members already include big names such as Alcatel-Lucent, Intel, Cisco, Samsung, Clearwire and Huawei. Hahn’s main argument as to why a patent pool would work is the fact that the WiMAX ecosystem will be substantially different than what the wireless industry has seen in the past. Mainly, it is envisioned to be one that includes several ecosystems—such as operators, personal computer makers and consumer electronics vendors—coming together. The players in the PC and CE markets are the ones accustomed to patent pools, Hahn said.
Hahn said such critical mass could also give the court system an idea of what is fair and reasonable in terms of WiMAX IPR costs.
“Generally the bigger the number the better, and when you achieve that 50% (of patents) threshold it says something,” Hahn said. “It will be a multi-year effort to get that. The idea is to start with a credible number and build on that over time. That number will get larger and larger so the reference point becomes more and more credible.”
One critical piece to making the patent pool work is getting PC makers and CE vendors to join the OPA. Hahn admits that the effort has taken longer than the OPA had hoped, as PC maker Acer recently joined and is the only company representing that market sector. Industry watchers say participation from the PC and CE markets is important to changing the way WiMAX patents are applied. Plus that sector, which operates on extremely thin margins, wants the most predicable costs it can get. Hahn hinted that another top PC player would be joining the OPA shortly.
After setting the precedent for WiMAX, the OPA also desires to create the same scenario for Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, the 4G technology adopted by the world’s major operators and endorsed by three influential public-safety organizations — the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the National Public-Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).
Already, several groups are trying to create a patent pool for LTE. Last month,
VIA Licensing and
MPG LA called on companies claiming to hold patents essential to LTE to contact them so they can evaluate the claims and create a patent program.