Feeds

UN deploys ITU to seek FRAND patent peace treaty

Takes time off from world-domination plans

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

The International Telecommunications Union – the communications arm of the United Nations – has convened a round-table meeting to talk about patents, why they aren't working and what might be done to solve this.

The ITU sets international standards, and so has an interest in making them work, though the organisation hasn't been active in patent reform before. The meeting will take place in October, with representatives from the various standards organisations and governments meeting up in Geneva to talk about how FRAND patents are being used to stifle innovation, and what can be done internationally to stop that happening, with all options on the table.

FRAND stands for Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory, and is the deal by which those contributing patented technology to a standard agree to ensure those standards are widely adopted. But recently, non-participating parties have been joined by participants in deploying "submarine patents", "ambush patents" and other techniques which are against the spirit, if not the law, of patent protection.

Patents exist to ensure inventors reap the benefits of their inventions, so should you think of a better mousetrap then you can patent it and the big manufacturers have to stump up cash to use your design. Mostly it's those big manufacturers who file the patents, but few would deny them a return on the investment made in creating the invention.

When a standard is created, such as GSM or Wi-Fi, the participants authoring it are required to reveal any pertinent patents. Those patents then fall under FRAND arrangements. The problems start when other companies, which are not involved in the standardisation process, reveal that they have patents covering the technology – often sneakily waiting until the standard has been widely adopted in order to maximise their returns.

The owner of such a "submarine" patent can charge what they like, as it sits outside the FRAND deal, and assuming the owner isn't doing anything other than realising the value of its (probably purchased) patents then it has nothing to fear from its licensees.

A good example is IPCom, which was set up to exploit mobile patents originally owned by Bosch. IPCom has been pursuing Nokia through the courts for the last five years, trying to get €12bn out of the Finns as a prelude to fleecing the rest of the handset manufacturers for assigning priorities to callers as mandated by the GSM standard.

But disputes are emerging even where litigants are bound by FRAND agreements, such as Samsung's ongoing spat with Apple. Samsung claims Apple has rejected its Fair and Reasonable overtures and so has turned to the courts, a move which has also attracted EU attention.

FRAND agreements should prevent "ambush" patents, which result from a participant in a standard deliberately concealing its patents until the standard has been approved. The UK Ministry of Defence's licensing arm, Ploughshare Innovations, stands accused of using an ambush patent after it invoiced manufacturers of kit conforming to the new GPS III standard which was jointly developed with the American military.

The patent system is clearly being abused, and that is preventing innovation, but it's important to remember that these disputes only represent a tiny proportion of the patents issued. The vast majority of patents are issued and never exploited, while a significant minority do not succeed in rewarding the inventors as they should. The difficult bit is stopping the abuse without denying the inventors their just reward which is what the ITU is going to discuss come October. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Turnbull: NBN won't turn your town into Silicon Valley
'People have been brainwashed to believe that their world will be changed forever if they get FTTP'
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
ISPs' post-net-neutrality world is built on 'bribes' says Tim Berners-Lee
Father of the worldwide web is extremely peeved over pay-per-packet-type plans
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.