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Apple's FireWire licensing – the debate rages

Is Apple now getting an easy ride on others' investments? Register readers have their say

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Our coverage of Apple's latest policy on licensing FireWire (see Apple caught charging crafty FireWire fee), prompted a number of interesting comments from Register readers. In particular, we were interested to receive information on Apple's original licensing scheme. Apparently, Apple initially charged $7500 for a one-off, non-exclusive, royalty-free licence for that aspect of FireWire which isn't covered by IEEE 1394 -- according to reader David Wooten, "1394 only covers the way bits are sent between devices, it does not cover the important stuff that lets devices know what those bits mean". The point some readers, have made is that after encouraging companies to invest in FireWire, in the hope of accelerating its adoption, Apple isn't justified in changing the terms of its licence once those companies have made the technology worthwhile. "Any value that is in the patents has accrued because of the investments of other companies in 1394, not because of any value that Apple has added to 1394 over the past few years," is how Mr Wooten, for one, puts it. Of course, the other way of looking at it is to say that Apple, by adopting FireWire as its standard device connection mechanism, has made it possible for those companies who coughed up the $7500 to begin capitalising on their investment to an extent that simply hasn't been possible until now. Given the terms of the original FireWire licence, these companies must be spared ongoing royalties, saving them the added cost that other vendors must take on board to cover what they have to pay to Apple. It also allows them to move ahead while the rest of the industry umms and aahs over whether to sign up for the royalty scheme or not (the almost certainly will, eventually, since the royalties are so low, and such is the momentum behind FireWire in the consumer electronics world). This gives a useful fillip to the technology's 'early adopters' (at least from a vendor standpoint). And, as reader Steve Kan pointed out, the royalty programme is likely to give Apple more control over FireWire compatibility than it might otherwise have. Ensuring compatibility has always been an Apple watchword right from the time it introduced the Macintosh User Interface regulations. ®

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