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The clash of IoT IP policies: Intel vs Qualcomm

Posted: 07 May 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel? Qualcomm? AllSeen Alliance? Open Interconnect Consortium? IP policies?

The complexity surrounding IP policies as regards Internet of Things (IoT) development is without a doubt an elephant in the room in the world of engineering design. Even so, the issue needs to be addressed one way or the other. But first things first. Let's try and break the dilemma down to a few questions.

How do you tell ISC Licence from Apache 2.0? Why is a Patent Non-Assertion Pledge necessary? Since when are "Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory" (RAND) terms no longer sufficient?

First thing you do, go to the intellectual property (IP) policy page of open collaborative projects such as Qualcomm-led AllSeen Alliance and Intel-led Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC).

But don't expect a simple answer. The two competing groups, both built around the IoT, provide respective IP policies, sufficiently different but similarly full of legalese. They're confusing and complicated enough to make anyone shrug and say: "Who cares? I'm just an engineer."

Hold that thought for a moment.

As I talk to the originators of such collaborative projects, I've come to realise that the ingenuity of their work done isn't limited to technical/engineering innovations. Equally important, and perhaps more critical to the foundation of these projects, are such concepts as "free software" and "open source" advocated by the engineering community, along with layers of new legal protections added to IP policies.

In comparing the IP policies of AllSeen with those of OIC, there are enough differences, both subtle and big. They include developer accessibility to code and specs, the way groups are structured and specific licences.

While IP policies alone aren't likely to determine the viability of one IoT camp over another (AllSeen over OIC, for example), differences might be big enough, at least in the minds of each group's promoters, to steer them on separate ways and inhibit them from joining forces, at least for now.

Did engineers win?

As tempting as it is to blame all the complexity of IP policies on lawyers, Andrew Updegrove, founding partner of Gesmer Updegrove LLP, shared a different view. It isn't lawyers but the engineering community that has led the world to revolutionise thinking about open source software today, he explained.

Andy Updegrove

Andy Updegrove

"Engineers have actually won the battle," stated Updegrove. The legal community has been playing catch-up with the engineers since the late 1980's when "free software" activists such as Richard Stallman wrote the first version of GNU General Public Licence.

Modern high-tech industry groups want to recruit for their cause the best engineering talent available in the world, said Updegrove. They recognise that it isn't wise to cross talented engineers who adhere to the engineering community's own code of ethics. As Updegrove stated, this value system requires that you can use, study, distribute and modify free and open software but you don't steal from the community. If you improve the code, you give it back to the community.

Instead of throwing up our hands at the complexity of IP policies, it might be time to celebrate the engineering community's sense of fair play.

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