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Cisco backs Apple's ETSI request for fair and open licensing of standards patents


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Cisco Systems filed its own letter to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute last week, backing Apple's position calling for "more consistent and transparent application of FRAND" licensing commitments among the standards body's members.

According to a letter obtained and published by Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents (and embedded below), Cisco's Dan Lang, vice president of intellectual property and deputy general counsel, addressed the ETSI noting that, like Apple, Cisco also "owns patents that are essential to certain wireless air interface standards created within ETSI or the Third Generation Platform Partnership."

ETSI and the 3GPP are involved in publishing the open specifications needed by manufacturers to implement support for GSM, GPRS, EDGE, 3G UMTS and 4G LTE.

Lang wrote that "Cisco shares Apple's view that the telecommunications industry would benefit from a more consistent and transparent application of FRAND," adding that it believed the groups "should grant licenses on terms that are consistent with the frameworks set out in Apple's letter."

The company encouraged "discussion of the issues raised in Apple's letter within the ETSI IPR Special Committed, and favors ETSI's prompt adoption of the framework set out in Apple's letter within the ETSI IPR Policy or Guidelines."

Apple set the ball rolling on fair and open standards

Apple's framework for "more consistent and transparent application of FRAND" included creating new transparency in telecom industry patent royalty rates, which are currently being arbitrarily negotiated in secret, making it difficult to determine if so-called FRAND licensing terms are actually "fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory."

Apple also asked that patents that are "standards essential" not be allowed to be used to seek injunctions on sales, as this allows the patent holder undue leverage in negotiating a patent royalty rate.

Unlike non-standards essential patents (such as the user interface, operating system or design patents Apple has argued), in order to be compatible with mobile standards all products would out of necessity be "infringing" in a way that is impossible to avoid or work around.

Apple began publicly calling out Samsung and Motorola for their efforts to effectively monopolize the standards process by leveraging patents the companies had already committed to FRAND licensing in last August.

After Apple wrote its initial letter to the ETSI in November, Cisco followed up in support in January, joined by Microsoft's public statement earlier this week voicing support for the same principles of transparency and openness in the process of negotiating fair compensation for patent inventors and reasonable and nondiscriminatory licensing terms for companies implementing open industry standards.

Apple, Cisco and Microsoft are all royalty earning contributors to and royalty paying customers of the ETSI / 3GPP standards organizations. All three companies are also involved in other standards organizations, ranging from ISO MPEG audio and video codecs, video conferencing and media related standards to shared development of IEEE and IETF standards related to networking and web standards.