If you were ever to cultivate the notion that the world was somehow running out of ideas, vision, initiative or a willingness to put theory into practice, a few hours in the company of Cambridge Wireless would soon put you right. Formerly (and now rather quaintly) known as Cambridge 3G, Cambridge Wireless is a loose confederation of businesses and service providers whose mission is
"to enable like-minded companies in the wireless sector to network and debate the latest developments in the industry, and find commercial opportunities for mutual collaboration".A quick looks at the membership list shows that "Cambridge" in this context is as much a frame of mind as a geographical concept, since its membership spreads out as far as the Pacific Ocean. members share their interests and concerns by participating in Special Interest Groups (SIGs).
Yesterday's inaugural meeting of Cambridge Wireless' Legal SIG was firmly planted in the outer reaches of Cherry Hinton, where leading-edge technology springs between the region's flat and fertile fenland fields.
IPKat team blogger Jeremy attended this meeting, hosted by ARM and chaired by Nigel Sywcher (Olswang), on the subject "Patents -- reward, revenue or WMD?" The meeting was opened by ARM's General Counsel Phil David, who observed that the programme's title should not be allowed to prejudice discussion: patents could possess one or more, or none at all, of the listed attributes. Phil also took the opportunity to warn of the perils of trollism and the dangers of courts granting unmeritorious injunctions in favour of unmeritorious non-manufacturing licensors.
The Keynote Address was given by Vincent Pluvinage of Intellectual Ventures LLC. Speaking with persuasive fluency, charm and not a little dramatic force, Vincent outlined the various elements of Intellectual Ventures' business model: essentially the company assesses, acquires and licenses patents for non-exclusive use, playing the odds by building up a critical mass of patents in its portfolios and continuing to attract further patents by offering a combination of sales skills, technical expertise and relatively generous revenue-sharing deals. Now that the model has been shown to work, the company can afford to fund original research and idea creation, not merely the development of inventions already in existence. In short, the picture painted by Vincent was of a friendly, giant, caring and pro-market patent troll that existed only to help its licensees, not to mug them. The IV concept is stunning in its simplicity, in its obvious role in meeting a number of well-known needs, in its economical and non-frictional-generating mode of activity -- and in its remoteness from the unwanted attentions of competition and antitrust authorities.
The presentation of the other main speaker, Daniel Hermele (Director of IPR, Qualcomm Europe Inc), was almost the complete antithesis of that of Vincent. Working for a company that actually made products as well as facilitating their being made, Daniel's concerns were also with what real companies need when they are trying to make things and have to pay others for the privilege of doing so. Patent licences are an inevitable necessity for anyone seeking to comply with agreed international standards, he conceded, which leaves licensees open to the dangers of patent royalty stacking -- the manufacturer pays percentage royalties to an ever-increasing number of licensors until there is not enough percentage left to make a reasonable profit. Qualcomm's own licensing policy, in contrast, was explained as an anti-stacking device since licences, once agreed, were not ratcheted up as the licensor evolved subsequent incremental innovations. Daniel then gave a sobering caveat about standards bodies and the apparently benign notion of licensing being acceptable to the competition authorities and others if it is conducted on FRAND (fair, reasonable and no-discriminatory) terms -- whatever that might mean in any given context.
In the discussions that took place after each presentation and at the end of the morning's programme, one of the themes that expressed itself most clearly was the need for "quality patents". It seems to Jeremy that this is a bit of a problem. On the basis of his discussions, he gets the impression that everyone wants quality patents but there's no consensus as to what they are. For example
* patent examiners want quality patents, by which they appear to mean patents in respect of which the formal application requirements have been properly addressed (this isn't as easy as it sounds);One thing occurred to Jeremy while he was speaking to participants: because the US has been such a powerful driving force in the development of wireless and cognate technologies, and US legal issues are more newsworthy, frequently aired and generally accessible than their European counterparts, Jeremy got the impression that people in general knew more about the relevant US law than about its European counterpart. Topics such as troll trouble, jury damages and injunctive relief spring immediately to mind in this context. He hopes that the imbalance between familiarity with US and European law is something that future Legal SIG get-togethers will do much to remedy.
* businesses want quality patents, by which they mean patents which have a meaningful content that teaches a new and useful art, disclosing it properly and eschewing the vice of evergreening;
* venture capitalists and other investors also seek quality patents, by which they mean patents that are apt to deliver a reliable revenue stream through direct manufacture or licensing.