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Networking

Group tries to rally 802.11 patents

Via Licensing is forming a group devoted to making licensing of 802.11-related patents easier and increasing the use of wireless networking in a broader array of products.

Via Licensing is forming a group devoted to making licensing of 802.11-related patents easier and to increasing the use of wireless networking in a broader array of products.

San Francisco-based Via said Tuesday that the group was in its initial stages of creating a joint


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licensing program. Via Licensing representatives would not disclose the names of the organization's potential members or the number participating. The companies have been deemed to hold patents essential to various 802.11 standards by an attorney at Fenwick & West. The group will meet again on April 14 and 15 in Tokyo, said Ron Moore, director of licensing at Via.

The effort could prove to be an exercise in corralling cats, since many 802.11 patent holders deem their property to be more valuable than that of their competitors and many are entangled in ongoing infringement suits. Suits have included Agere Systems against Intersil and Proxim against Intersil, as well as against Symbol Technologies, SMC Networks and Wayport. Intersil sold its wireless networking unit to GlobespanVirata late last year.

"Such a program is potentially useful if you have some of the key patent holders in the group," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with research firm Farpoint Group. At the same time, depending on what the fees are, prices for gear could increase.

Via Licensing, a subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories, has experience in bringing together such groups. The subsidiary formed groups for MPEG 2 AAC, MPEG 4 AAC and H.264.

The groups provide markets with what are essentially one-stop shops for patent licenses. Also, by combining the patents of members, the groups potentially lower costs for would-be litigants, who don't have to go out and get protection from each holder individually.

Key to such organizations is getting a good number of patent holders to join and participate.

"We want to provide as broad a license for the market as possible," Moore said.

The 802.11 group is working to determine what it deems to be reasonable royalty fees and how fees would be distributed among members. Moore estimated that it would take a few months for the group to be fully formed and for licensing terms to be completed.

The goal of the group, Moore said, is to encourage use of wireless networking by easing any concerns manufacturers may have of being sued for patent infringement.

The group sees its efforts as something market-enabling instead of market-stifling, Moore said.

"These licensing programs are an economically efficient way of collecting royalties," said Selwyn Goldberg, a partner with Palo Alto, Calif.-based law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, covering intellectual property and technology transactions. "It's more difficult to get licenses in an efficient way without programs like this, so it can help to get products off the ground."