Engineers, tech firms battle patent trolls on standard setting

A big showdown is taking place at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an important standard-setting body, about rules for patents that cover basic building blocks of tech, such as chips or Wi-Fi protocols.

The outcome of the fight is significant since the new rules for so-called “standard essential patents” will affect what consumers ultimately pay for everyday devices like phones and routers.

On Monday, executives from high-profile tech companies, including [company]Apple[/company] and [company]Microsoft[/company], put their names to a public letter that sought to safeguard an upcoming IEEE decision from “smoke and mirrors” tactics by patent assertion entities (commonly known as patent trolls).

“[A] 21-member group of chipmakers, OEMs, former regulators, and law professors have written a letter to the IEEE to express their support for the proposed clarifications, and to urge them to stand strong in face of those misleading arguments,” stated Cisco, one of the group members, in a press release announcing the letter.

To make its case for implementing new IEEE rules on how to pay for standards patents, the letter points to the recent example of a patent troll that has been brandishing a standards essential patent to demand thousands of dollars per Wi-Fi chip from hotels and small businesses.

The new rules are supposed to be up for a vote next week. If they go into effect, the group says they will result in a more streamlined process for determining reasonable payments for patent holders, while also reducing the sort of high-stakes litigation tactics that adds expense and uncertainty for everyone in tech.

The troll industry, meanwhile, is pushing back with blog posts warning that the new rules will mean the end of innovation.

All of these subjects at stake — like standards setting, RAND patents and the IEEE — amount to inside baseball, even for those familiar with the world of the patent bar.

But the outcome will likely have a direct outcome on issues like royalty stacking and patent hold-ups that hit consumers in their pocketbooks, so it’s worth paying attention — if only for the high-profile names at the bottom of the letter. These also include execs from the likes of Verizon, HP, and Samsung, as well as prominent IP and antitrust academics like Mark Lemley.

You can read the letter for yourself below:

Jan. 30 Letter to IEEE Board (Rev)

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