ITU looks to shake up patent wars

The ITU will hold a roundtable discussion over the ongoing fight between tech companies over standards-essential patents.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations (UN) body, will hold a "high-level roundtable discussion" in Geneva on 10 October between standards organisations, industry and government officials, looking to end the misuse of standards-essential patents by tech companies in ongoing patent battles.

Standards-essential patents have been in the spotlight of late, as tech giants Apple and Samsung continue to battle it out in courts across the globe. In counterclaims to Apple's lawsuits against Samsung, the Korean tech giant claimed that Apple has infringed on its standards-essential 3G patents. Apple has said that companies holding standards-essential patents should not be able to get an injunction on the basis of those patents, because there is an expectation that the patent will be licensed on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) basis.

As part of an Australian case set to be heard this month, Apple will seek to obtain evidence that Samsung is treating Apple differently to how it has treated other third-party vendors in licensing standards-essential patents.

The ITU roundtable will look at the rise of patent litigation, and the "growing lack of adherence to standards bodies' existing patent policies", according to ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré.

"We are seeing an unwelcome trend in today's marketplace to use standards-essential patents to block markets. There needs to be an urgent review of this situation: patents are meant to encourage innovation, not stifle it. Acknowledging patent holders and user requirements, as well as market needs, is a balancing act. This timely multi-stakeholder roundtable will help press for a resolution on some of the critical issues."

In announcing the discussion, the ITU quoted a number of stakeholders on the matter who welcomed the discussion, including Microsoft's general manager of standards strategy and policy. Neither Apple nor Samsung were quoted in the release.

Foss Patents blogger Florian Mueller welcomes the review.

"Litigation over standard-essential patents is on the rise, worldwide. Judicial and regulatory decisions can help give meaning to FRAND, and this is the right time for leading standard-developing organisations to brainstorm about clear rules able to limit the scope of future disputes involving standards," he said.

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