After Broadcom imbroglio, Open Interconnect Consortium, AllSeen Alliance wrestle with IP issues in IoT

The Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) and the AllSeen Alliance are both working to standardize the Internet of Things (IoT) space and make devices interoperable--and in doing so they pit some of the industry's biggest giants against one other. And that battle appears to be entering a new phase over intellectual property (IP) licensing.

The situation crystalized earlier this month when Broadcom, a founding member of the OIC, reportedly left the organization due to a disagreement over intellectual property. GigaOm first reported Broadcom's exodus, citing a source who said Broadcom's departure was due to IP licensing agreements that required companies that were donating code to the project to give up their right to sue over that IP. The source said that the AllSeen Alliance doesn't have as rigorous a policy when it comes to its IP licensing agreements.  

The AllSeen Alliance does have an IP policy, which is available here. But leaders of the OIC say it does not include a RAND-Z provision that says companies that participate must offer a zero-rate reasonable and non-discriminatory license to their code for member organizations. The OIC does have that provision.

"IP is a complex issue and one that the AllSeen community is working to navigate for the benefit of all who wish to utilize its open source codebase," said Joe Speed, director of IoT at the AllSeen Alliance, in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech."They are actively discussing and debating the best policy… it takes time to debate and build consensus, but the community feels it's on the right track."

Broadcom declined to comment when contacted by FierceWirelessTech.

The whole idea behind forming the OIC was for device-to-device connectivity, formulating a way for devices to talk to one another regardless of hardware or software, said Imad Sousou, OIC vice president who also serves as general manager of the Intel Open Source Technology Center.

"We needed to address a broad set of issues. By that I mean this is something that has a big standard element to it and at the same time, you really have to have an implementation of that standard that makes it easy for people to incorporate into their devices and bring that capability to the market, and we chose to do things in a specific way," he told FierceWirelessTech.

The group of companies decided to do things in a way that is "very strongly biased towards broad adoption and not being encumbered with royalties and so on--that's fundamentally what we are trying to accomplish," he said.

Why didn't the members of the OIC just join AllSeen? When considering it, there were two big elements at play for OIC's  founders, Sousou said. One involves the standard and the second has to do with the implementation. "In our case, we're using a very standard open source license, which is Apache 2, that all our members and anybody can contribute to it, just like any normal open source project," he said.

"The element we did not see anywhere in the industry, AllSeen or any other place, was a standard," similar to what's been done in the industry with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. "That simply does not exist and certainly does not exist with an IP policy that doesn't require people to be paying royalties to using that IP, and that is really the critical piece in terms of having an IPR policy that is non-discriminatory and everybody can use that code and everybody who is contributing is committed to that, so truly a free standard," he said. "We felt that there is an industry need for it because what you can't do,  you can't really expect to have this broad adoption on everything," from light bulbs to traffic lights, if there isn't a standard set up like this."

Whether IoT standards bodies ever will consolidate in some fashion is an open question. Sousou said he doesn't think that needs to happen, while others say the only way the IoT is ever going to be truly  interoperable is if all the devices are talking the same language, which would presumably require the standards groups to agree on one protocol.

Infonetics Research analyst John Byrne said overall, companies clearly have two competing interests in forming these standards group: All of the vendors have a common interest in developing standards that can encourage more IoT development, but individually, each company is trying to carve out the best position for itself vis-à-vis competitors.

Intel and Broadcom, for example, theoretically support the idea of having a common device-to-device protocol, but they have no interest in seeing AllJoyn be that platform because it is seen as the Qualcomm platform. "Yes, there are IP concerns that they raise but the reality is if AllJoyn gains traction, then both Intel and Broadcom would probably get on board rather than lose out on a growing market," he said.

"Similarly, if the Open Interconnect Consortium gains traction, Qualcomm would probably be joining up.  At the end of the day, it's unlikely there will be one set of common standards--one group may have a stronger platform for, e.g., connected home applications, while another might be stronger in smart cities or smart grid.  So vendors in this space will be very strategic about which standards bodies they should join and when it's time to switch course and align with other bodies."

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