Alium wants to ease Open RAN patent licensing

A new patent pool is being created to eliminate some of the uncertainty around patent licensing in the open RAN infrastructure area. Called Alium, the patent pool was created by current patent pool MPEG LA and Unified Patents, a member-based group with a mission of reducing patent trolls. The goal of Alium is to make it easier for companies to build open RAN equipment.

Eleven patent owners have joined Alium’s open RAN licensing group including Acer, AT&T Intellectual Property, CableLabs, Comcast, Godo Kaisha IP Bridge 1, Koninklijke Philips, Meta, Mitsubishi Electric, Pantech, SK Telecom and Verizon Patent and Licensing.

Larry Horn, Alium’s manager said that he knows Alium needs more companies to get involved, including key open RAN patent holders such as NTT DoCoMO, LG, Apple and more. However, he added that MPEG 2, which is one of the most prominent patent pools in the tech world, started with just eight patent holders and now represents close to 100% of the market.

“Every program has to start somewhere,” Horn said. “We are starting with these 11 companies. We have a starting point to accumulate serious intellectual property for licensees.”

Horn also said that some of the big wireless infrastructure companies like Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung and Huawei, which hold patents in the traditional RAN area do not necessarily hold the majority of the patents in open RAN. “They have just a little over 30%,” he said.

Nevertheless, Alium is trying to attract all the potential stakeholders in open RAN patents. “We are currently in discussions with dozens of companies,” said Craig Thompson, who oversees the consulting group for Unified Patents. “I think they will see the attractiveness of this.”

The O-RAN Alliance, which was formed to develop specifications for open RAN and work on interoperability, does have a patent policy, however, Thompson said that the alliance isn’t focused on patent licensing but is working on the open RAN interface and is using 3GPP-based  technologies.  “Our focus is on patents that are for network functionality,” he said.

Alium is trying to make it easier and more affordable for companies to join the patent pool by using artificial intelligence (AI) tool to determine the royalty allocations. Horn said that this allows companies to participate without having to first pay an independent firm to evaluate their patent and determine if it is essential. This expert evaluation typically would cost companies several thousands of dollars for every patent that they hold.

“If someone had 100 patents,” Horn said, “It would be very costly for them to join a patent pool. But we have reduced the cost considerably.”