Patent News

Feb. 2, 2015

IP Watchdog: DOJ should not approve IEEE patent policy weakening WiFi patents, by Brian Pomper

This post originally appeared in IP Watchdog on February 2, 2015.

In recent days, several of the most senior policy makers and legal experts in the intellectual property (IP) space have raised alarms about a troubling patent policy decision that is pending at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), one of the world’s leading technology standards-setting organizations.

The experts have begun to echo what executives from almost every major wireless research contributor – including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, General Electric, InterDigital, Nokia, and Qualcomm, among others – have been saying for months; that a vote expected in early February in the IEEE Board of Directors could disrupt the balance of power between patent holders and users in the wireless space, with immediate implications for Wi-Fi and eventually for many other areas of technology.

This radical new policy would sharply and artificially reduce the level of protection given to Wi-Fi-related patents. If approved, the change would immediately depress the future development of a technology that is used every day by billions of people worldwide precisely because of the historically competitive, balanced standardization process.

The IEEE has requested – and the DOJ is rumored to be close to issuing – a Business Review Letter (BRL), which will state whether the U.S. Government views the IEEE policy change as consistent with U.S. antitrust laws. Numerous players have challenged the policy and asked the DOJ to shed more light on its opaque decision-making process, but so far without luck. The IEEE process was also one-sided and arbitrary, in total disregard of its mandate to be open and consensus-based.

The IEEE move is wrong on process and wrong on substance, and a growing number of critics agree.