Ina Fried

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Coalition of Tech Companies Aims to License LTE-Related Patents

A group of large technology companies is banding together in an effort to license some of the underlying technology needed for products compatible with high-speed LTE wireless networks.


Among the companies banding together are AT&T, Clearwire, Hewlett-Packard, KDDI, NTT DOCOMO, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, and ZTE. The effort is coordinated by Via Licensing, a spinoff of Dolby Laboratories that is in the business of managing patent pools.

Via Licensing isn’t disclosing the exact pricing for the LTE patents, which varies based on volume, but it is on the order of a few dollars per device.

One of the major challenges, though, is that the group only accounts for a small part of the patents essential to incorporating the LTE standard.

Via Licensing president Roger Ross said that it is difficult to put a precise estimate on how much of the intellectual property is behind the LTE standard, but estimates maybe 20 percent is represented by current partners. Via hopes eventually to have entities representing up to half of all the related intellectual property.

“We expect participation in this program to grow significantly once the patent pool is announced, even in the next few weeks,” said John Ehler, director of wireless programs for Via.

Some big names aren’t part of the group, though, including Qualcomm, Ericsson and Nokia. Nokia, for its part, says it has already licensed its LTE essential patents to more than 40 companies, noting that it has more than 400 families of patents related to the technology.

“This has been estimated by independent sources to represent around 50 percent of the total patents declared essential to LTE by all companies,” Nokia said. (Clearly, if you ask all the parties what percentage of LTE patents they hold, you will get an answer that adds up to more than 100 percent.)

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told AllThingsD on Tuesday that he sees intellectual property licensing as one of five key businesses for the company, alongside basic phones, Windows phones, location services and network infrastructure.

While Nokia is actively licensing its LTE patents, there is concern that other parties might use their LTE patents as bargaining power in an increasingly litigious wireless industry that has seen an array of lawsuits.

Ross said that it is frustrating to see so much litigation over standards-essential patents, especially when intellectual property holders are supposed to commit to reasonable licensing of their technology as part of the standards-setting processes.

Licensing efforts such as Via’s offer a way for the industry to save money while still allowing companies to get paid for their intellectual property.

“Every dollar companies don’t have to spend on litigation is a dollar they can spend on LTE innovation,” Ross said.

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