WiMax Hits the Patent Pool

A new alliance of WiMax players aims to create a competitive royalty structure.

WiMax took another tentative step forward June 9 with the formation of the Open Patent Alliance, creating a patent pool to help companies obtain access to patents at a predictable cost. The group said its aim is to advance a competitive and open intellectual property rights model.

The OPA's founding members include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Clearwire, Intel, Samsung and Sprint Nextel. The OPA said it expects to secure participation of an additional six to nine investor companies.

The patent pool will aggregate essential patent rights needed to implement the WiMax standard as defined by the WiMax Forum and the IEEE 802.16e standard. WiMax is a 4G, IP-based broadband wireless technology that backers, particularly Sprint Nextel, Clearwire and a host of tech companies, are betting will become a viable broadband competitor.

In May, Sprint revived its flagging $5 billion WiMax plans with financial backing from Intel, Google and major cable companies. Sprint will merge its struggling WiMax division with Clearwire to create a new company operating under the Clearwire name.

"We expect to unleash wireless innovation with this patent alliance," Barry West, president of Sprint's XOHM business unit, said in a statement. "The open licensing program will help prompt pervasive WiMax technology. This speeds the day when consumers can enjoy the convenience of WiMax mobile broadband services on new devices in new places and experience all the open Internet has to offer."

The OPA founders said they hope the patent pool approach will ensure product differentiation and interoperability by focusing on providing a more competitive royalty structure by charging only for the features required to develop WiMax products. The patent pool will incorporate a number of royalty licensing arrangements, including cross-licensing among members of the pool.

According to the OPA, an independent third-party reviewer will evaluate submitted patents to determine how essential they are to the WiMax standard and WiMax Forum profiles.

"We are confident that the formation of the Open Patent Alliance, which is fully in line with Alcatel-Lucent's Open CPE program, will ensure a broad and diverse set of devices will be available to the consumer," said Brett Galloway, senior vice president of Cisco wireless and security.

Galloway added that widespread adoption of WiMax would allow people "to move freely throughout the world while maintaining continuous connectivity to cool new applications and services."