Hewlett-Packard, ZTE and mobile operators such as AT&T and SK Telecom have pooled their LTE patents under a program led by Via Licensing, aiming to provide a one-stop shop for companies to license their technology.
Via Licensing organized the patent pool as an independent administrator and announced it on Wednesday. Patent pools are designed to make it easier for companies to license the technology they need to implement a given standard, in this case LTE, and to prevent costly patent litigation in the future. Those benefits can lower the cost of products that use the technology, advocates say.
Via isn't alone in trying to group many vendors under a powerful LTE patent pool. MPEG LA and the Italian company Sisvel, both of which have long experience in tech patent pools, have discussed organizing pools. MPEG LA said Wednesday it continues to examine ways to assist the market with LTE licensing. Sisvel's website lists its LTE pool as being in development.
The Via pool is heavily weighted toward service providers, a set of patent holders that is often overlooked but has developed some valuable technologies, according to analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis. In addition to AT&T and SK Telecom, the members include Clearwire, Japan's KDDI and NTT DoCoMo, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and DirecTV subsidiary DTVG Licensing. Most of the biggest purveyors of LTE technology aren't there, including Huawei Technologies, Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung Electronics.
Once a group of companies pools its patents for a given technology, other companies that want to use technologies developed by any of the members can get a single license instead of going to each vendor individually. This makes licensing more efficient and costs more predictable, encouraging more adoption of the technology, proponents say.
Fragmentation of licensing caused problems in 3G network technologies, including lengthy legal battles between some big players, according to analyst Robert Syputa of Maravedis. But cross-licensing agreements among major vendors so far have prevented such problems in LTE, he said.
"People are getting reimbursed for the research and development they did in a very reasonable fashion," Syputa said. Probably as a result of that, the added cost of LTE capability on smartphones is modest, he said.
Those cross-licensing deals took place without organized pools run by administrators like Via Licensing. Mobile network giant Ericsson, for one, has said it won't put its LTE patents in any pools. However, pools can be beneficial to smaller holders of patents, Syputa said.
Mobile operators "do tend to have some interesting stuff, and they do tend to do some interesting R&D," Jarich of Current Analysis said. In addition, because carriers are the major buyers of network gear, they tend to be players that other patent holders don't want to cross, he added.