However, efforts by organizations like Via Licensing, MPEG LA and Sisvel have always come up against the hostility of major mobile players such as Ericsson and Qualcomm, and there are few signs that the latest bid, by Via, will have better success.
Via has signed AT&T, Clearwire and eight other supporters for its fledgling pool and hopes these will entice others to join, especially those concerned about the uneven balance of power in LTE patent armories, and the secretiveness of the current system of bilateral cross-licensing deals.
The 10 backers have agreed to lend key LTE-related intellectual property to the pool, which will be administered by Via, combining essential patents under a single licence and avoiding a string of individual negotiations.
Importantly, several of the Asian operators which are also significant innovators and IPR holders have signed up – NTT DoCoMo and KDDI of Japan, and SKT of Korea, along with Telecom Italia and Telefonica. However, there is a shortage of key vendors, which tend to invest most in technology R&D and therefore amass large patent holdings.
ZTE, which has a rapidly growing portfolio, is included, along with Hewlett-Packard, but no Ericsson, Huawei, Qualcomm, Nokia or Samsung. These five are among the largest holders of essential IPR in mobile standards so any pool will be meaningless without at least some of them joining. (The tenth member is DTVG Licensing).
Roger Roth, president of Via Licensing, insisted that other LTE suppliers were poised to join, and if they do, a pool approach can certainly reduce the risk, to smaller firms or non-IPR owners, of creating products for 4G without being attacked in court down the road.