Thursday, July 20, 2023

Highway toll collection pioneer Axxès becomes third licensee of Avanci Aftermarket cellular standard-essential patent pool

While the proposed EU regulation on standard-essential patents (SEPs) has rightly been called a "wholly bad idea", licensing works: there are far more bilateral license agreements (between one SEP holder and one implementer) and pool license agreements than lawsuits. Most agreements are not announced, but there are exceptions, and pools tend to be particularly transparent in that regard. Last month, Sisvel announced a 5G license agreement with Microsoft involving a relatively new multimode pool for consumer electronics devices. Today, another relatively patent pool announced a license agreement: Axxès, a French company that is a pioneer in toll collection technologies, has taken an Avanci Aftermarket license.

It's been five months (minus one day) since I reported on the launch of the Avanci Aftermarket pool. Unlike the original Avanci pool that licenses car makers, Avanci Aftermarket provides a one-stop shop solution to those making products that are subsequently installed into cars, such as trackers, toll collection, or monitoring systems. The pool started with two licensees (a company collecting road tolls and a leading provider of intelligent transport systems for the public transport sector).

Axxès facilitates toll payments for trucks, buses, and utility vehicles driving on the roads of various European countries (such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain). So this is a European company doing business in Europe, and they did submit suggestions during the European Commission's consultations regarding a new framework for SEPs. Axxès may meet the EU's criteria for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and sees value in the Avanci model. The press release quotes Axxès' chairman and CEO, Frédéric Lepeintre, as saying "[they] are confident that being an Avanci licensee will help [them] to continue to deliver innovative solutions to the market."

So here we see an innovative medium-sized European company appreciating a market-driven solution, and apparently deeming the pool rates fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND). The fact that the specifics (particularly the licensee's name) are known makes this case study far more meaningful than the dubious anecdotal evidence from unnamed companies one can find in the impact assessment accompanying the proposed EU SEP Regulation.

The press release also quotes Avanci VP Marianne Frydenlund, formerly of Nordic Semiconductor. She knows and understands implementers' needs, including those of small and medium-sized ones in the IoT space, as anyone who met her at the time (she attended a licensing conference I organized in Brussels four years ago) can confirm. Avanci's management team consists not only of former executives of major net licensors, but some of its members--such as Mrs. Frydenlund--previously worked for major net licensees.

For Avanci, the license agreement with Axxès means further progress as the pool management firm expands into adjacent areas. It appears that patent holders who work with Avanci in one area tend to be more than receptive to the idea of working together in additional fields, even more so now that Avanci's automotive pool has licensed the vast majority of connected-vehicle sales in the world and provides a one-stop license to well over 50 portfolios, collectively representing most cellular SEPs in the world.

So far, Avanci's cellular pools cover 2G, 3G, and 4G. I don't know when a 5G announcement will be made, but a rapidly increasing number of cars are equipped with 5G technology and the licensing process needs to be streamlined. I guess an announcement will be made before the end of the year.