Via Licensing is moving into the IP acquisition business with the launch of a defensive patent bank providing pool members with another layer of risk mitigation through a defensive aggregation model.
The new bank is looking to buy high quality and essential patents relevant to fourth generation LTE mobile technology in what is an unusual move for a patent pool business.
Existing and future members of Via’s LTE pool will receive a licence to any patents that the bank acquires, in essence making the new acquisition vehicle itself a member of the pool.
“Via’s defensive patent bank is about reducing barriers to innovation in specific technology verticals, in this case LTE,” Via President Joe Siino told the IAM blog. “Together with our LTE pool, this presents a uniquely effective solution for reducing risk and supporting a more transparent and less litigious market in LTE licensing.”
Siino stated that any patents the new bank acquires will be thoroughly vetted including by an independent, neutral evaluator. He also admitted that the bank may not hold onto all of the IP that it acquires. “It is possible that certain patent rights may be obtained by the bank from a third party for only a limited period of time, in which case those companies who are pool licensees during the relevant time period will receive a licence,” he commented.
Although the patent bank will initially be focused on LTE patents, there’s no reason in principle why the idea couldn’t also be extended to other areas where Via has a pool such as advanced audio coding (AAC) or the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard.
The launch of the bank comes in what has been a highly eventful year for Via. While many attempts to launch a pool focused on mobile technology have largely foundered as the largest patent owners have declined to sign up, Via has made a concerted push to grow its LTE focused arm. At the start of the year it hired Taraneh Maghamé from Apple to lead expansion of the LTE pool. It has also changed the royalty structure for the pool in a move designed to attract lower volume device manufacturers. Then, in September, Via announced that it had agreed a deal with Lenovo whereby the Chinese tech giant signed up to the pool as both a licensor and licensee. It joined the likes of existing members AT&T, Google, NTT DOCOMO and Verizon.
Via’s line-up of LTE patent owners constitutes an impressive list of SEP holders in the wireless space — it includes, for instance, the legacy Motorola Mobility IP after that business was sold to Google in 2011 (it was subsequently sold again to Lenovo although Google retained most of the patent portfolio).
What it doesn’t include, though, is some of the other giant SEP holders such as Qualcomm, InterDigital, Ericsson and Nokia. They have largely resisted attempts to license their wireless patents through pools, although the first three have joined Avanci, the collective licensing platform headed by former Ericsson CIPO Kasim Alfalahi that is looking to license patents relating to 2G, 3G and 4G mobile technology in a number of different Internet of Things (IoT) verticals.
Without those giants of the wireless space there’s no doubt that Via’s LTE pool has some notable gaps, but the patent bank is at least one novel way of trying to plug them.