Apple Asked Standards Body to Set Rules for Essential Patents

Standard

By Ian Sherr

SAN FRANCISCO—Apple Inc. has asked a telecommunications standards body to set basic principles governing how member companies license their patents, an increasingly contentious topic for rivals in the smartphone industry.

In a letter to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, Apple said the telecommunications industry lacks consistent licensing schemes for the many patents necessary to make mobile devices, and offered suggestions for setting appropriate royalty rates that all members would follow.

Many mobile technology companies, such as Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., hold patents that became part of industrywide standards. Standards bodies often require the patent holders to offer to license their patents to any company on a basis known as Frand, or fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory. Questions about such commitments have arisen amid a flurry of patent suits between rivals in the mobile-device market.

Apple said in its letter—which was dated Nov. 11 but not previously disclosed—that the lack of clarity on what is fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory has led many companies to ask unusually high rates and sue one another, claiming they infringed on one another’s patents.

“It is apparent that our industry suffers from a lack of consistent adherence to Frand principles in the cellular standards arena,” wrote Bruce Watrous, Apple’s intellectual property head.

Apple’s move to solidify how industry-essential patent holders should act comes at a tumultuous time. The Cupertino, Calif., company has been battling rivals such as Samsung, Motorola and HTC Corp. in patent suits spanning courtrooms across the globe.

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(Published Feb 7, 2012, on The Wall Street Journal website.)