US DoJ okays IEEE's patent troll BAN-HAMMER

Patent-pingers told to back off from standards-essential innovations

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has okayed new IEEE standards licensing rules designed to end some of the seemingly-endless lawsuits over standards-essential patents - and the trolls aren't happy.

A key step in bringing the new rules into effect, a “Business Review Letter” from the DoJ, has been completed with the department publishing its decision here.

After years of patent battles over standard technologies, the IEEE decided it needs to revise standard patent licensing rules it applied to the standards-setting process.

In December, it approved an update to Section 6 of the IEEE Standards Association Bylaws, due to come into effect in March after a final vote in the IEEE.

Supported by a number of vendors, the proposed bylaw was designed to prevent the use of injunctions as a “first shot” in legal actions and clarify what can be considered “reasonable compensation”, to kill the strategy of seeking thousands of dollars per chip sold.

As the vendors' letter (a copy is at Scribd is here) notes, the policy was also designed to emphasise that licensing obligations are supposed to benefit everybody in the market, “not just some companies based on their particular business model”.

The policy also states that licensing obligations survive the sale of a patent from one company to another. In other words, “they promised to let others use the patent, we didn't” would no longer be a valid strategy.

As noted by Gigaom, companies following “a particular business model” aren't happy about the policy.

At IPWatchdog, Brian Pomper of the Innovation Alliance reckons the change will “artificially reduce the level of protection” Wi-Fi patents receive, which would “depress the future development” of the technology.

RCWireless complains that it's only WiFi – under the old patent regime – that rescued the world from being “tethered to the Internet via … a telephone line”. It complains that the decision published by the IEEE was reached by a "non-transparent" process and punishes "creators of patented innovations".

The Register notes that the policy change isn't specific to WiFi – the by-law covers any patent essential to IEEE-developed standards.

The list of supporting vendors includes a veritable who's-who of the industry, including Lenovo, Cisco, Sceptre, Intel, Samsung, Kingston Technology, HP, Dell, Microsoft, D-Link, Apple, Verizon and Sierra Wireless. A bunch of legal academics also put their names to the supporting letter. ®


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