LTE patent pool efforts heat up

Earlier this month and oddly within days of each other (two were on the same day), three different companies that administer patent licensing programs issued calls for patents essential to the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard, with the purpose of creating a patent pool for LTE.

Sisvel, VIA Licensing and MPEG LA are calling on companies claiming to hold patents essential to LTE to give them a call or send an email so they can evaluate the claims and create a patent program. MPEG LA said it has made significant progress with a group of interested companies to create a joint patent pool license for LTE. The company said its efforts began last year, and it has been educating the market about the benefits of pooling licenses. Sisvel said its effort also began last year, and it too is making a move following talks with stakeholders in the LTE field.

The goal of such pools is to create a standard and predictable licensing rate for all manufacturers. The issue arises after critics slammed what they see as exorbitant rates for 2G and 3G technologies; indeed, cell phone maker Sendo in part blamed high royalty rates for its collapse.

However, this latest turn on the LTE field likely will confuse the LTE patent domain more than offer the cost clarity. Is the race on to see how many companies each of these patent administrator firms can sign up? Moreover, all three efforts most likely are meaningless without support from all the major stakeholders involved.

Last spring, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, NEC, NextWave, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks and Sony Ericsson established a patent pool to provide predictable costs for licensing LTE IP. Noticeably absent were Qualcomm, Motorola and Nortel. Qualcomm has favored and likely always will favor bilateral agreements. Nortel indicated last spring that it would license its essential patents for LTE handsets at a royalty rate of 1 percent of a device's sales price. Motorola, which holds a significant amount of OFDM/OFDMA patents, hasn't been public about its plans.

I have to believe that the major vendors already are well on their way in cross-licensing deals for LTE. Qualcomm and Nokia hammered things out in July with a 15-year patent agreement that covers a number of technologies, including LTE. These large vendors are well versed in the patent game, and I don't see anything changing on the LTE playing field. --Lynnette