3G CELLULAR STANDARDS AND PATENTS
At the beginning of 2004, the standards for third generation (3G) cellular technology were embodied in 483 Technical Specifications published by the two Partnership Projects: 3GPP and 3GPP2. Corporate members of the Partnership Projects are encouraged to identify intellectual property that is essential to implementing the standards. We have studied 7,796 patents and patent applications declared essential to the two standards. The patents are clustered in 887 families, where each family covers one invention. Three quarters of the declared patents are assigned to four companies. A preliminary evaluation of one patent from each family suggests that approximately 21% of the declared patents are actually essential. This paper presents the distributions of patents declared essential and patents judged essential according to technical category and patent ownership. As information technology professionals, we are educated to seek the best technical solution to the tasks we address. However, we find that the success of our efforts, as indicated by the adoption of our contributions, depends on many factors besides the quality of our work. Two of these factors are technical standards and intellectual property rights (IPR) to technology that complements or competes with our own solutions. Standards can accelerate technology proliferation; they can also be barriers to innovation . Governments issue patents to reward innovation and stimulate technology creation. However, distortions in the patent system can stifle creativity and block deployment of the best technology. The problem is especially acute when a user needs access to multiple patented inputs to create a single useful product. In these circumstances the patent system can retard, rather than encourage, innovation . A recent article in research Spectrum documents the tug of war between patent ownership and formulation of information technology standards . Open (as opposed to proprietary) standards promote positive externalities and encourage widespread technology deployment. On the other hand, patents, by their nature as exclusionary monopolies, restrict technology deployment in order to encourage technology creation. Organizations that formulate open standards would like to exclude patented technology from the standards. If that is not possible, as is often the case, they prefer that patent owners grant free licenses to implement their patents in products that conform to the standards. In practice, however, information technology standards organizations are populated by representatives of companies that aim to profit from ownership of their IPR. From the point of view of the public interest, standards organizations have to compromise between the goal of unimpeded access to the standard and the possibility that excluding a patented invention from a standard can unreasonably restrain trade by excluding a technically advanced product from the market . To reconcile the contradiction between open standards and patent ownership, standards organizations encourage members to disclose essential patents and to agree to license the patents to all interested parties on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms. This paper reports the results of a study of 7,796 patents and patent applications declared essential to two third generation cellular technologies: wideband code division multiple access (WCDMA) and CDMA2000. Section II describes the evolution of cellular technology and the roles of two international Partnership Projects in standardizing third generation systems. Section III describes the standards documents that define WCDMA and CDMA2000. Section IV explains that the 7,796 declared patents are clustered in 887 families . All the patents in a family cover the same invention. Section V describes the distribution of the patent families across several technology categories and among companies that own rights to the patents. In Section VI, we report the results of a preliminary technical assessment of each patent family in order to estimate the number of inventions that are actually essential to the two sets of standards. Section VII summarizes our main findings and their implications.
Cellular telecommunications dates from the 1970s, when experimental systems demonstrated the technical feasibility of a radically new approach to telephony. The first commercial systems appeared in the early 1980s and since then technical progress has been measured in generations . First generation technology relied on analog frequency modulation to transmit voice signals. Second generation systems, introduced in the 1990s, transmit speech in digital format. To promote network security and enable roaming, they employ standard signaling protocols for communication among base stations, mobile switching centers and databases. There are two broad categories of second generation systems, distinguished by their approaches to multiplexing and multiple access of radio signals. Some systems employ time division multiple access (TDMA) and others employ code division (CDMA). There are two standards for signaling in the core network: the mobile
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