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IP battle heats up between Apple, Ericsson

Posted: 17 Feb 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple? Ericsson? LTE? patent? IEEE?

Apple and Ericsson are not letting up on their squabble involving LTE patents amid the forthcoming changes to the rules over wireless IP royalties as proposed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Bu then again, what, exactly, is "Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory" (FRAND) in the world of patents related to semiconductors and consumer electronics?

That debate has raged for decades, notably in the wide-ranging wireless sector, bringing many a fruitful payday to patent lawyers and exasperating some of the best judges as they grapple with issues such as open sourcing and patent pooling.

The latest high profile spat that will have to rule on the matter pits those sometime FRANDs and FOEs, Ericsson and Apple, who last month started counter-suing each other in different U.S. courts, having failed over the past two years to settle their dispute over the size of royalties Apple should be paying for Ericsson-owned intellectual property rights (IPR) related to LTE standards.

The dispute is likely to be a long, drawn-out affair, as these usually are.

In the meantime, a lower-profile but more important debate rages that may have long term impact on how the industry copes with patent licensing: namely, the influential IEEE is weighing changes that could significantly reduce royalty fees paid by makers of electronics gear.

Ripple effect of patent squabbles

The crux of the debate, that pits the biggest names in the semiconductors and consumer electronics OEMs, has focused on IPR related to Wi-Fi, but in fact is likely to have a major ripple effect in a range of technologies, not least the often bizarre rules governing patents related to cellular communications which generally come under the umbrella of the 3GPP standards setting organisation.

The IEEE's Standards Association late last year put out its proposals, which earlier this month got a huge boost from the U.S. Department of Justice, who ruled, in a Business Review Letter that they did not violate antitrust laws. Indeed the DoJ suggested they might even "have the potential to benefit competition."

The likes of Qualcomm and Ericsson were not best pleased, hardly surprising as they could lose billions of dollars in revenues from the huge investments they put into developing and patenting technologies. Expect a furor when the IEEE-SA outlines its final proposals, likely as soon as later this month. And expect another blog on the matter from this correspondent once we know more.

But to return to the Apple-Ericsson imbroglio. One of the common facts driving these seemingly disparate issues, and one that the IEEE-SA will likely address, is that, even though the industry has been living with the FRAND concept for a long time, there is no, clearly defined rule as to how to value in cash terms standards-essential patents (SEP).

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