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Apple caves in over FireWire licensing

Mac maker to share IEEE1394 patent rights

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Apple has bowed to pressure from the computer and consumer electronics industries, and changed its royalty system for the IEEE1394 digital interface system, also known as FireWire. The company today announced it was forming a 'patent pool' with key FireWire licensees Compaq, Sony, Matsushita/Panasonic, Philips and Toshiba. Together, the six companies will develop and implement a collective licensing programme. In effect, the move takes Apple's FireWire intellectual property and shares it out among the six companies, though whether they each have an equal share isn't known. The announcement follows the widespread criticism targeted at Apple earlier this year when it emerged the company was charging newer licensees a $1-a-port royalty (see Apple caught charging crafty FireWire fee). Numerous PC manufacturers and peripheral vendors claimed the company was unjustified in seeking a royalty for FireWire, since, as IEEE1394, it was an open standard. In fact, as The Register pointed out, IEEE regulations permit IP owners to charge a royalty for the use of that IP even though it may be part of an IEEE standard. However, there remained the issue of whether Apple's royalty was too high and might limit the take-up of FireWire as the next peripheral interconnect standard. At the time, Apple said all royalties were open to negotiation and so would not inhibit the acceptance of the standard. However, the patent pooling move suggests that the Sony, Compaq and co. felt the reverse would be true. Most of the companies in the pool long ago paid an up-front $7500 charge for unlimited access to Apple's FireWire IP. Today's deal shows Apple has accepted its patent pool partners' viewpoint and sends out the message that FireWire is no longer in the hands of a single company. Still, it does represent a significant loss of face for Apple, though ultimately it will gain from the deal through the (hopefully) aggressive adoption of FireWire that its partners are now boasting will take place. ® See also Anti-Apple FireWire firms propose alternative spec Apple's FireWire licensing -- the debate rages

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