Apple asks for governing rules on mobile patents

The iPhone maker says that the mobile industry lacks "consistent adherence to Frand principles" and wants the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to step in.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read
Frand patent policies are a hot-button issue right now.
Frand patent policies are a hot-button issue right now. Apple, Motorola

Apple has asked a European standards body to set new rules on how essential patents are licensed in the mobile industry.

The iPhone maker sent a letter to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in November requesting member companies set reasonable royalty rates and terms on patents related to essential mobile device functions. The Wall Street Journal, which discovered the letter yesterday, was first to report on it.

Apple is currently embroiled in bitter patent disputes with a host of companies around the world, with each side claiming the other violates patents they hold. Chief among its adversaries is Samsung, which happens to be one of the ETSI member companies. Apple's other patent foe, Motorola, is also a member of ETSI. Both Samsung and Motorola hold essential patents related to mobile standards, and the iPhone maker has claimed in the past that they don't offer them on a reasonable basis.

According to ETSI standards, companies that hold patents that become industry-wide standards must offer them to any and all competitors on a Frand, or fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory basis.

Frand hit center stage last week when Apple lost a German court battle after a judge ruled its iPhone and iPad violated 3G patents held by Motorola Mobility. Although the ruling banned Apple's mobile devices from store shelves, Apple was able to bring them back after claiming Motorola violated Frand standards.

"Apple appealed this ruling because Motorola repeatedly refuses to license this patent to Apple on reasonable terms, despite having declared it an industry standard patent seven years ago," an Apple spokeswoman told CNET.

Alleged Frand abuse has also become an issue for Samsung. Late last month, the European Commission announced that it had launched a formal investigation into whether Samsung had used key wireless patents as an anti-competitive tool, in violation of its commitment to the ETSI. At the time, FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller, who has been keeping a close eye on the lawsuits, said that Apple might have informally complained to the EC back in November, when it launched its preliminary investigation. As noted, the letter the Journal discovered yesterday was written in November, as well.

In that letter, Apple argues that "appropriate" royalty rates must be set by the ETSI. The company has also asked the ETSI to ban patent holders from using their Frand intellectual property in infringement cases.

However, a simple letter to the ETSI doesn't mean anything will change. But it clearly illustrates Frand is a going concern for Apple.

Update at 5 p.m. PT: Intellectual property tracking blog FOSS Patents has posted a letter from Cisco supporting Apple's stance on patent licensing, saying it "shares Apple's view that the telecommunications industry would benefit from a more consistent and transparent application of FRAND."

In the letter, which is dated January 31, 2012, Cisco's vice president of intellectual property and deputy general counsel suggests a discussion of the issues as part of an ETSI special committee meeting, as well as adopting the framework within the organization's own policies.