IEEE Suspends 802.20 Standards Process Amid Complaints About Qualcomm

The IEEE has put the standards process for the 802.20 standard on hold after Intel and Motorola made some noise about undue influence from Qualcomm on the process. The companies say that the "independent consultant" that's the chairman of the working group is actually on Qualcomm's payroll, and is giving the company's proposals favored treatment. The 802.20 process has been pretty contentious, with Qualcomm doing its damndest to hold up the process and prevent Flarion's Flash-OFDM proposal from being ratified -- until it bought Flarion, of course. Qualcomm's quite aggressive when it comes to anything IP-related, making it one of many people in the industry's least favorite companies, but it's probably not coincidental that the two companies complaining -- Intel and Motorola -- are major backers of WiMAX, essentially a competitor to any 802.20 standard. The bigger issue than this particular spat, though, is the persistent problems coming out of standards ratification processes. China's complaining about how the IEEE is handling its WAPI proposal for WiFi security, the UWB standards group just gave up after it couldn't reach a final agreement, and the WiMAX ratification process didn't exactly come off without a hitch. There's so much at stake for companies if they can get their IP or their proposals included in standards, and the process almost guarantees that not the best solution will go ahead, but the one that's the most politically expedient. The process is weighted towards big, powerful companies (like Qualcomm), not towards new entrants or end users. Clashes like this between big companies will be common, but without any significant change, is the current standards process sustainable?

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  • identicon
    alaric, 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    comical (can't succeed inhibit others)

    This is funny and sad. Motorola and Intel will get spanked along with 802.16e if FLASH-OFDM is standardized within 802.20. Game over, wrong bet go home and beg forgiveness to qualcomm if that happens for intel and motorola. So they (motorola and intel) attempt to disrupt the standard, the same standard that qualcomm itself was disrupting for years and is now probably exerting as much influence as possible upon to standardize what qualcomm didn't want standardized. Got that. The market benefits from the standardization of FLASH-OFDM and neither intel nor motorola should be given a freebe so they can actually offer mobile wimax that really works in say three years so i have to side with qualcomm on this on. But qualcomm is no saint and failure to acknowledge that would taint me. The interesting thing here is Motorola's new independence. Qualcomm holds a lot of patents on CDMA2000 and WCDMA that are critical to motorola's businesses. Qualcomm has leverage here and while it has less leverage on intel, it still does have some because Flarion's patents on mobile OFDMA will surely cross 802.16e.

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  • identicon
    Paul Jardine, 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    Qualcomm

    Qualcomm had a lot of influence in the success of GSM, and assuming they stick to their litigious ways, will have a lot of influence in the success of WiMAX. Flarions FLASH-OFDM system is probably better than WiMAX(16e), CDMA is better than GSM, but the real inhibitor here is Qualcomm and the (US) patents system. Now if Qualcomm were implicated in some major patent scandal, or Enron-type fraud, would the market be better off without them? Of course it would...as would society.

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  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    Linking Standards Morass With Patent Law

    At Techdirt, we have been separately pointing out how increasingly contested these standards development debates have become over the past decade, while we have also been pointing out how the US Patent system seems to grant too many patents, and when combined with the legal system seems to create a highly litigious society where companies are constantly being sued for just going about business. A Patent arms race has developed where companies build patent arsenals not just to protect their IP, but so they have counter-offensive weapons in case they are sued. (Why is military analogy so appropriate for an IP discussion?) The connections between the standards bodies and the patent system have become obvious. There is such a windfall based on who gets their IP inserted into a standard, that the companies come to loggerheads instead of coming to compromise. But isn't it ridiculous that in a standards body, you will have as many as 100 companies, all with similar technology done in slightly different ways (can you say "obvious to someone skilled in the trade" or "prior art") trying to insert their IP into the final standard. And if we choose company A's IP over company B's, A gets rich on their patents and B starves. But it's even more ridiculous if the choices are more about politics than about the best technology? How often do you think a big company with worse IP successfully inserts their ideas into a Standard, over the ideas of a smaller company with better IP? How often do you think a company tries to insert what they know to be an inferior technology into a standard, simply because that's how they get paid? Here's a great business plan: Develop a technology a bit like some others out there, not cutting edge, but patentable. Then, join a standards body in your field. Then, hire nothing but lawyers and politicians to get your patent, and also to work the standard body to insert your IP into the standard. DON'T WASTE MONEY BUILDING PRODUCT - that costs time and resources. Just focus all resources on the Standards body. Now, if you succeed in getting your IP into the standard, surprise everyone with exorbitant licensing terms. Now, lay off all your staff and retire. Let the other companies in the Standard body market the standard solution. Let some other poor schmuck company make the products. You make a cut on every one. Hooray! It's the Patent and Legal systems that are scuttling the Standards processes. There is too much "winner take all" in the legal and patent system, and this kills the spirit of compromise in Standard Bodies. And that's too bad, because smoothly working standards bodies should contribute to progress. Standards Bodies should require royalty-free contributions only. That way, if a company wants to participate, they have to offer their IP freely. The body would choose the best solutions, and the companies that contributed IP would be the "pole position" to try to get to market first. If a company doesn't want to give IP for free, that's totally acceptable, but then you have to go to market alone, or form your own partnerships. But then I woke up...

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  • identicon
    alaric, 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    very good idea

    "Standards Bodies should require royalty-free contributions only. That way, if a company wants to participate, they have to offer their IP freely." According to IEEE rules there are supposed to be fair licensing rules but the above route is a better idea. But i don't know that the problems in 802.20 are about IPR on 802.20 products as they are about protecting IPR or even just sales in 802.16e, WCDMA. Motorola and intel want to block that group so they can control another market and i don't know that either has substantial ipr for 802.16e. Qualcomm sought the same thing prior to purchasing Flarion to protect WCDMA. These companies see standards bodies not as a standards body but both as a IPR trust fund and a means to inhibit competition. The simple fact is that these large companies have too much control which they too frequently abuse.

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  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    Probably Went Too Far

    I agree, my suggestion of making IP contributions to standards for free is probably too far to the extreme to be realistic or ideal. However, it couldn't be much worse than the status quo. Also, there are too many companies who wait for the standards to be set, ONLY THEN claiming their IP is in there, and they then set their licensing terms. This is totally destructive of the process, and is currently one of the problems facing WiMAX and its mobile variant.

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  • identicon
    alaric, 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    What will Happen to 802.20?

    that is the question i want answered. I certainly hope that motorola and intel don't succeed in killing it just like i hoped qualcomm would fail to kill 802.20 before. Cellular standards set by 3GPP and 3GPP2 are ultimately quasi proprietary and a mechanism to keep out competition. For example, the royalities that must be paid to motorola, nokia, ericsson on GSM are quite substantial and that served to limit the role of smaller vendors in the past. 802.16e is a good start but it has years to go and i have very little faith in any wireless movement that is lead by intel. I also think the 802.16 was somewhat dishonest. Their charter was for a fixed/portable standard not a 3GPP all out mobile competitor. Intel and others (motorola) took it over, made it a mobile group and had little resistance from the existing members who are all tiny and often living on fumes (funds) from the buble era. Competition is a good thing in this industry.

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  • identicon
    Araemo, 16 Jun 2006 @ 11:00am

    Re: Probably Went Too Far

    Derek, Unfortunately, the companies that 'submarine' patents until after standards are approved and in use are usually not involved in the standards process at all. In fact, when they ARE involved, they are often on shakey ground, because of the requirement that any proposals to the standards body fully disclose all IP issues with the proposal. If a company makes a proposal, but does not mention they own patents on the proposal, they will have a hard time getting rewards in court. This happened with RAMBUS and the JEDEC DDR working groups.. rambus suggested things, and then withdrew their suggestions and started suing the companies using them. They LOST those lawsuits. Unfortunately, the companies they sued also engaged in price-fixing in retribution, and those companies settled on that topic separately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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