Based on Sisvel's presentation, they have the most number of companies in their pool which will make them the dominant pool and give the required clout to negotiate licensing fees.
Typically, patent pools are managed by specialized companies that don't own intellectual property themselves. They set up licensing programs, collect license fees and distribute the proceeds to member companies. In the case of LTE, three of these -- Sisvel, Via Licensing and MPEG LA -- are vying to form a pool that represents a critical mass of LTE patents.
Sisvel, an Italian company that also operates a patent pool for MPEG audio technology, this week claimed it had brought together 32 significant LTE patent holders, the largest number of any of the three patent-pool companies. "With the kind of scale that we're talking about here ... the pool could really be close to a one-stop shop," said Sean Corey, IP counsel for Sisvel US.
Meanwhile, MPEG LA says about 15 companies are working with its pool program, but added that they include some of the major players in terms of patents and market share. "There's a critical mass there," said Bill Geary, vice president of business development at MPEG LA. Via Licensing says 24 patent holders were actively discussing licensing terms and conditions at its last meeting of stakeholders, he said.
Formation of the pools is still at an early stage, with none of them yet operating and no patent holders publicly announcing their affiliations. But while all three say they are months away from operation, Via claims it has the most aggressive program. After kicking it off in January, the company could get its patent pool running in as little as 12 months, said John Ehler, Via Licensing's director of wireless programs. MPEG LA has been working on its own pool for about two years and hopes to have it in operation next year, Geary said. Sisvel's Corey said it takes between 18 months and two years to get a program going.
All three companies want to have the biggest pool, to make it easy for vendors large and small to license everything they need. In this way, patent pooling should help to accelerate adoption of LTE, the patent-pool promoters said. It could also attract a broader range of companies, such as consumer electronics makers and embedded device manufacturers, to the fast networks.
Patent pools are likely to have a bigger impact on embedded devices than on smartphones, according to Robert Syputa, an analyst at research company Maravedis. The market for machine-to-machine radio devices such as smart electrical meters is more price-sensitive than for mobile data products that consumers use, he said. Easier licensing may also draw in a wider range of vendors of such products, he said.
It's important to get pools organized early in the adoption cycle of a technology, Syputa said. If the commercial marketplace advances too far, too much intellectual property may become locked up in one-on-one licensing agreements between companies, he said. This happened with 3G, but with LTE, patent holders still have time to do it right, he said.
At least one important LTE patent holder, Ericsson, has said it will only sign bilateral license deals. Having three pool efforts in progress seems to complicate matters where just a single sanctioned one might be preferable, Syputa said. But even three pools would be preferable to a series of individual agreements, he said.
Ericsson, the world’s largest wireless infrastructure manufacturer, claims to have 25 percent of the essential patents to Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, making the vendor the single largest IPR hold in LTE. Most of the huge IPR holders in W-CDMA – Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson and InterDigital – are also claiming a big share of the LTE patent base.
Ericsson claims contradict a survey from Informa regarding essential IPR holders. Informa estimates Ericsson is much lower in the IPR ranking, behind Qualcomm, InterDigital, Samsung and Huawei in total patents, with emerging vendors such as Huawei also contributing 4G development research.
Unlike Qualcomm – which by almost everyone’s calculations remains the leader in essential IPR – Ericsson is favouring a patent pool approach, which would set the total royalty rate for combined patents at under 10%, says Caroline Gabriel.