June 09, 2008, 2:10 PM — The most notable aspect of the Open Patent Alliance (OPA), a new group launched on
Monday, may be which companies aren't involved.
Cisco, Intel, Samsung and Alcatel-Lucent, along with operators Clearwire and
Xohm, introduced the Open Patent Alliance, a central pool for patents relevant
to WiMax. Companies, such as consumer electronics developers that are interested
in building WiMax into their products, can use the OPA to discover which companies
have relevant patents for WiMax and to figure out how much it would cost them
to license those patents.
The companies involved in the announcement were keen to stress that they expect
other relevant organizations to join, but they made it easy to notice the absences
while describing the patent situation behind WiMax.
"The essential [intellectual property] for WiMax is much more broadly
held than some of the traditional cellular technology," said Barry West,
chief technology officer at Sprint and head of Xohm, Sprint's WiMax network.
The companies initially involved in the OPA would not say how many of the patents
behind WiMax that they control, although Samsung said that it owns 25 percent
of the patents behind certain components of WiMax. Other companies that have
essential patents include Nortel and Motorola, said Phil Solis, an analyst with
Another notable owner of relevant patents that is not involved in OPA at the
launch is Qualcomm, which has been accused by Nokia and other mobile vendors
of charging inflated prices for access to its patents. Qualcomm owns relevant
patents to WiMax through its own development, as well as through acquisitions
of companies including Flarion and Airgo Networks, said Solis. Qualcomm has
signed licensing agreements for some of the technology to companies including
Soma Networks for use in WiMax products.
Qualcomm did not respond to questions about whether it might join the OPA.
Other WiMax contributors will likely join the group, although possibly not
all of them, Solis said. "This isn't going to be some catch-all type of
solution," he said. "But what it does is start a foundation to push
other companies to join, so you have this openness in terms of patent transparency."