George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

Busting Smartphone Patent Licensing Myths

closeup of a circuit boardCPIP has released a new policy brief, Busting Smartphone Patent Licensing Myths, by Keith Mallinson, Founder of WiseHarbor. Mr. Mallinson is an expert with 25 years of experience in the wired and wireless telecommunications, media, and entertainment markets.

Mr. Mallinson discusses several common myths concerning smartphone patent licensing and argues that antitrust interventions and SSO policy changes based on these myths may have the unintended consequence of pushing patent owners away from open and collaborative patent licensing. He concludes that depriving patentees of licensing income based on these myths will remove incentives to invest and take risks in developing new technologies.

We’ve included the Executive Summary below. To read the full policy brief, please click here.

Busting Smartphone Patent Licensing Myths

By Keith Mallinson

Executive Summary

Smartphones are an outstanding success for hundreds of handset manufacturers and mobile operators, with rapid and broad adoption by billions of consumers worldwide. Major innovations for these—including standard-essential technologies developed at great expense and risk primarily by a small number of companies—have been shared openly and extensively through standard-setting organizations and commitments to license essential patents on “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms.”

Despite this success, manufacturers seeking to severely reduce what they must pay for the technologies that make their products possible have widely promoted several falsehoods about licensing in the cellular industry. Unsubstantiated by facts, these myths are being used to justify interventions in intellectual property (IP) markets by antitrust authorities, as well as changes to patent policies in standard-setting organizations. This paper identifies and dispels some of the most egregious and widespread myths about smartphone patent licensing:

Myth 1: Licensing royalties should be based on the smallest saleable patent practicing unit (SSPPU) implementing the patented technology, and not on the handset. The SSPPU concept is completely inapplicable in the real world of licensing negotiations involving portfolios that may have thousands of patents reading on various components, combinations of components, entire devices, and networks. In the cellular industry, negotiated license agreements almost invariably calculate royalties as a percentage of handset sales prices. The SSPPU concept is inapplicable because it would not only be impractical given the size and scope of those portfolios, but it would not reflect properly the utility and value that high-speed cellular connectivity brings to bear on all features in cellular handsets.

Myth 2: Licensing fees are an unfair tax on the wireless industry. License fees relate to the creation—not arbitrary subtraction—of value in the cellular industry. They are payments for use of essential patented technologies, developed at significant cost by others, when an implementer chooses to produce products made possible by those technologies. The revenue generated by those license fees encourages innovation, and is directly related to the use of the patented technologies.

Myth 3: Licensing fees and cross-licensing diminish licensee profits and impede them from investing in their own research and development (R&D). Profits among manufacturers are determined by competition among them, including differences in pricing power and costs. Core-technology royalty fees, which are charged on a non-discriminatory basis and are payable by all implementers, are not the cause of low profitability by some manufacturers while others are very profitable. Cross-licensing is widespread: It provides in-kind consideration, which reduces patent-licensing costs and incentivizes R&D.

Myth 4: Fixed royalty rates ignore the decreasing value of portfolio licenses as patents expire. Portfolio licensing is the norm because it is convenient and cost efficient for licensor and licensee alike. All parties know the composition of the portfolio will change as some patents expire and new patents are added. Indeed, this myth is particularly fanciful given that the number of new patents issued greatly exceeds the number that expires for the major patentees. In fact, each succeeding generation of cellular technology has represented and will continue to represent a far greater investment in the development of IP than the prior generation.

Myth 5: Royalty charges should be capped so they do not exceed figures such as 10% of the handset price or even well under $1 per device. There is no basis for arbitrary royalty caps. It is not unusual for the value of IP to predominate as a proportion of total selling prices, in books, CDs, DVDs, or computer programs. Market forces—not arbitrary benchmarks wished for or demanded by vested interests and which do not reflect costs, business risks, or values involved—should also be left to determine how costs and financial rewards are allocated in the cellular industry with smartphones.