Thursday, November 19, 2015

FRAND flurry: two new initiatives promote fair licensing of standard-essential patents, Qualcomm in trouble

FRAND-pledged standard-essential patents (SEPs) were a major topic (actually, the #1 topic) on this blog a few years ago. Then my focus shifted, but my positions on this issue did not. I'm following with great interest Apple's efforts not to bow to Ericsson's notoriously-aggressive SEP royalty demands and pleased to see that two new industry initatives relating to FRAND were launched this week:

  1. ACT | The App Association has announced a new web resource for innovators, policy-makers, and academics. It's called All Things FRAND and supported by significant players including Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft. ACT is headquartered in the U.S. but also quite active abroad.

  2. The new FairStandards Alliance is based in Brussels, the de facto EU capital. Its website says: "We are friends of FRAND"

    The FairStandards Alliance is off to a pretty good start with this position paper and support from an interesting mix of IT (Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, Juniper), mobile/IoT (Fairphone, India's Micromax, Lenovo, Sierra Wireless, Telit) and--this is particularly interesting but not surprising to me given that cars are increasingly "smartphones on wheels"--automotive companies (BMW, Volkswagen).

Both these initiatives are interested in various FRAND-related issues. The FairStandards alliance is particularly clear in its support of a proper royalty base. That question (on which Apple has been vocal in court and in standard-setting organizations) also appears to be key to findings of South Korea's Fair Trade Commission in an investigation of Qualcomm's licensing practices, including its device-based pricing strategy. I agree with analysts who view this as spelling trouble for Qualcomm. South Korea's FTC may very well get support, in political terms, from the two new FRAND initatives launched this week.

In the past, Qualcomm got away pretty much unscathed, at least in the EU. Even its Chinese settlements appears not to have caused similar worries in the investment community. South Korean antitrust enforcers are apparently taking the lead now with respect to this particular SEP holder, and I applaud them for their courage and steadfastness.

It would be great if Apple (which has always been on the good side of FRAND) and Google (which appears to be on the good side by now) could also lend support to one or more initatives of this kind. Google and Cisco have often agreed on patent policy matters. Why not on this one?

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