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Lucent licensing 56-kbps technology

Following 3Com's lead, Lucent will license patented 56-kbps modem technology, but probably on a per-unit basis.

    Lucent Technologies (LU) said today it is willing to license 56-kbps modem technology for use by other vendors in order to advance an industry standard for the technology, but licensees may have to pony up significant fees.

    Lucent wants to be well rewarded for its efforts in developing what is now being referred to as pulse code modulation (PCM) modem technology. The company said its position on licensing remains unchanged and that it will negotiate with other companies on a "non-discriminatory basis and under reasonable terms and conditions," signaling that it fully expects other companies will have to license its technology.

    Modem manufacturers and chip companies were hoping a preliminary, or "determined," standard for 56-kbps modems would emerge from the International Telecommunications Union in September, but issues surrounding the licensing of intellectual property rights prevented companies from reaching a consensus.

    Industry observers have noted that modem companies are reluctant to pay royalties for each modem shipped because the royalties are not capped and because this arrangement reveals sales information to competitors.

    3Com said earlier this month that it intended to license its 56-kbps modem technology for a one-time fee in an effort to move the standards process along. Lucent, however, asserts that it has patents on technology that will be essential to the operation of all PCM modems, and is likely to ask companies for per-unit royalties on 56-kbps modem sales.

    "The difference here is that we have three patents that are issued that are the earliest and most basic patents related to PCM technology," said JoAnna Schooler, spokesperson for Lucent. "As far as we know, Mr. Townshend has applied for patents and it has not been issued yet. There is no telling if it will become a patent or a part of the standard. That could take years," Schooler said. Brent Townshend is an independent inventor who is claiming he too has patents pending on key 56-kbps technology.

    Modems using x2 technology from 3Com (COMS), which earlier this year purchased modem maker U.S. Robotics, don't currently operate with modems based on Rockwell and Lucent's K56flex technology, since standards have not yet been set.

    A determined standard would have helped modem makers tell whether 56-kbps modems currently being sold are upgradable to the eventual industry standard. But because a determined standard was not agreed upon at this month's meeting, consumers should not expect to see a preliminary standard until January 1998 and a final 56-kbps modem standard until mid-1998 at earliest.