Analysis: Qualcomm to man 802.11n toll-booth

The British weekly The New Statesman runs weekly competitions, typically literary in nature, in which winners win books, free subscriptions or theater tickets. I remember one competition in which readers were asked to pick the most belaboring-the-obvious, most not-telling-us-anything-we-did-not-know-already newspaper headline. The winner was a London Times headline: "In India, Wherever You Go You Run Into People." If the New Statesman were to run a competition this week for the most obvious, boring sentence in an article, my candidate would be a line from Computerworld: "[Qualcomm] is in the midst of several patent disputes." Tell us something we don't know.

ABI research's Phil Solis calculates that only about a third of Qualcomm's earnings come from licensing fees (many cell phones use Qualcomm's CDMA, and Qualcomm collected $2.75 billion in licensing fees in its most recent fiscal year). Still, it is difficult to think of another technology company in the strategic moves of which licensing fees, royalties, and sheer zest for litigation play such a prominent role.

Just as Qualcomm's acquisition of Flarion raised the specter of a drawn out litigation campaign over WiMAX patents, the company's acquisition of Airgo will likely lead to litigation over 802.11n. Peter Judge writes that the controversy about Qualcomm's Draft 2.0 announcement "may well pale beside likely intellectual property issues." Qualcomm's vice president Enrico Salvatori says he knows the value of Airgo's MIMO patents: "We will continue to push our business model, based on enabling OEMs delivering products based on our essential patents and IPR." Salvatori's comment should be layered on top of what Airgo's CEO Greg Raleigh said last year: "802.11n is Airgo's technology... Our intellectual property is wrapped up throughout. There appears to be a market north of 2.5 billion chipsets, and 80 percent of the WiFi market will be 802.11n by the end of 2007." Judge concludes: "Whatever Qualcomm does in FMC, we'd be very surprised not to see it following up the potential revenue stream from the patents."

Glen Fleishman is glum: "I expect Qualcomm to follow its usual aggressive strategy. Which means bloody noses, lawsuits and so on." 

For more on the IP aspects of Qualcomm's move:
- see Peter Judge's Techworld discussion
- and Glenn Fleishman's comments

ALSO: Back in the spring Qualcomm acquired Flarion Technologies, in the process adding significantly to its stable of OFDM-related patents. Robert Jaques's Vnunet report and Nancy Gohring's Techworld report both delve deeper into Qualcomm's love of litigation.