A Call for a WiMax Licensing Group

Via Licensing Corporation is calling for WiMax patent holders to join a program with the ultimate goal of creating a portfolio of essential 802.16 technology that can be offered to companies at a single license price.

While unwilling to name names, “a good cross-section of recognizable” companies have already expressed interest in the licensing effort, according to Ron Moore, director of Licensing and Business Development for Via.

Via, a San Francisco-based subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories, has formed such licensing groups for the MPEG 2 and MPEG 4 audio formats, and for the H.264 video playback format. In March, it began a pool for Wi-Fi patents.

“Broad access to essential patents for open international standards is mandatory,” the company states. Such licensing arrangements promote market growth while providing “a reasonable return on patent owners’ investments in developing new technologies,” according to a prepared statement. Wide adoption of the 802.16 standard benefits consumers, manufacturers and patent holders, Via says.

Via says the licensing program would offer the patents “under fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms.”

Via has set Nov. 19 as the cutoff date for companies to submit patents they believe are essential to the 802.16 standard.

Essential patents are those “that have one or more claims that would necessarily be infringed by the implementation or use of the 802.16 standard,” according to a Via statement. In January or February, Via expects to submit the patent claims to an independent evaluator which will decide if the patents are indeed essential to WiMax, Moore says.

Such one-stop shopping for licensing 802.16 would increase the adoption of the technology in consumer electronics devices, Moore believes. “Known costs are highly important,” he says, arguing that a patent-licensing program would mean “consumer electronics have stability for patent costs.”

Moore says the patent pool is a cost-effective method for settling licensing disputes that often result in legal battles or expensive one-on-one negotiations. WiMax “hasn’t seen the volume of litigation” that 802.11 witnessed, he says. Agere, Symbol, Intersil, Proxim and Wayport have all been involved in lawsuits surrounding 802.11 patents.

Wi-LAN earlier this year purchased 17 patents related to WiMax. The Canadian company is also suing Cisco Systems, claiming the networking giant infringed patents on 802.11 technology used in 802.11b gear distributed in that country.

Via’s effort to form a similar licensing pool for holders of 802.11 patents “has been a good experience,” Moore says. While Via expects to announce progress by the end of the year in forming an 802.11 license portfolio, Moore says the process has been like herding cats. Not every Wi-Fi player came on board, and until an agreement is signed, Moore hesitates to claim victory.

Via’s role in 802.11 licensing and its upcoming work toward 802.16 will primarily be as a facilitator, offering legal advice and patent expert advice while eventually becoming an administrator of incoming patent licensing royalties, Moore says.

Intel, Cisco, Fujitsu Microelectronics America and many others are involved in 802.16 development. The WiMax Forum reported in September that its membership stands at 140, with a backlog of almost 40 companies waiting to be admitted.

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