Some supply chain customers are admittedly furious over the fees. "I cant think of anything else that would be more stifling to RFID than royalties. People who charge licensing fees appear desperate to make money," said one former Intermec customer who asked not to be identified. "Intermec is acting as though it is Microsoft or something. Meanwhile, our company is getting more and more into open-source Linux. Instead of being open and contributing to the standards group, Intermec is holding on to proprietary technology and suing the pants off of anybody it can," he said.Yet Wills denied that Intermec is taking a proprietary stance. "If we were being proprietary, we wouldnt let anybody on to our property and thatd be a real showstopper," he said. The licensing plan makes Intermecs technology available in a random and nondiscriminatory, or RAND, manner to both "competitors and noncompetitors," Wills said. He defined noncompetitors as companies that arent yet Intermec competitors, but that might be in the future. Other players warned that the importance of the Intermec patent dispute could be getting overblown within the overall context of RFID deployment. "Intermec is one of the leaders in RFID technology for the retail supply chain, and theyd like to see financial benefits from their IP [intellectual property]," said Jeff Richards, president of R4 Global Solutions, a consulting house that has teamed with a number of RFID vendors, including both Intermec and Matrics. "But RFID is kind of unusual in the way that users are driving adoption," he said. "RFID users are recognized as driving the bus. Big retailers want prices to go down and they also want companies to be working together. The entire user community isnt going to say, OK. Well, well just put everything on hold now. EPCglobal had 40 or 50 members in January, and by now it has hundreds. Theres going to be a lot of dialogue going forward. This isnt going to be just Intermec, sitting across the table from a couple of startups." Richards continued: "Texas Instruments and Philips will be entering in Gen 2. There are also companies such as Motorola and Intel that havent even really gotten involved with RFID yet. [Venture capitalists] arent going to be idly standing by, either. This should all make for a very interesting discussion." Check out eWEEK.coms Supply Chain Management & Logistics Center for the latest news and analysis of enterprise supply chains.
The customer did not criticize Intermecs products in particular, but he said that his company has abandoned earlier plans to use RFID for inventory tracking, turning instead to another technology that seems to works better under "real world" as opposed to "ideal" conditions.