In a major ruling that underscores judicial independence, federal judge Richard J. Leon has just unconditionally approved the merger between AT&T and Time Warner, rebuffing the US government's effort to stop the $85.4 billion deal.
Major innovations in cellular technologies arise largely from the substantial Research and Development (R&D) investments and inventions of relatively few companies, followed by widespread collaborations including many more in the process of standard setting.
While Ericsson is a leading contributor to mobile communications standards, a US District Court in California has significantly undervalued Ericsson's standard-essential patents (SEPs) by relying heavily on flawed "top-down" valuation analysis that prorates royalties by company for 2G, 3G and 4G based on SEP counting. This analysis applies a series of inaccurate assumptions which whittle down royalty rates from an understated notional maximum in a succession of unreliable steps. The resulting rates derived are a lot lower than those found in a European court's FRAND determination for the same company in the same year (2017) and for the same 2G, 3G, and 4G patent portfolios. The differences between these US and European determinations are irreconcilable.
Radio spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless networks. Traditional methods of doling out spectrum have somewhat hindered rather than helped maximize the availability of affordable Internet access, even if this was not the case with voice and text. Instead of seeking to aggrandize auction proceeds by creating scarcity, more flexible allocations including shared as well as traditional licensed and unlicensed assignments are required.
I participated as a panelist in a session entitled, "Economists: Do They Have a Place?," at the Patents in Telecoms and the Internet of Things conference at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on November 10, 2017. This article is substantially my remarks in that conference panel session. Before my remarks, Stephen Haber of Stanford University said that I had posed the defining question for the entire conference in an audience question-and-answer exchange the previous day. It had perturbed me to hear a panel speaker mischaracterize the communications standards as platforms of preexisting technologies upon which Internet of Things (IoT) innovation will occur. In response, I said that communications standards are rich in technology innovation and patented intellectual property.
As I explained in IP Finance last week, following President Trump's blocking of Broadcom's hostile bid to acquire Qualcomm, by remaining independent the cellular technology leader will be able to maintain its long-term commitment to high levels of R&D investment (at 23 percent of sales recently), most significantly including that in 5G communications standard-essential IP.
The broadband performance and economics of cellular with 4G and 5G is making it possible for many of us to do without any wired connection at all - already including those who, on average, stream up to an hour of video per day. Nevertheless, most homes will continue to need fixed connections; but 5G fixed-wireless access will serve many of these.
At a conference entitled Patents in Telecoms & the Internet of Things, at George Washington University in the District of Columbia last week, I was perturbed to hear a speaker mischaracterizing the communications standards as platforms of preexisting technologies upon which IoT innovation will occur. Major research and development investments are being made in communications technologies and standards to satisfy the anticipated demands of 5G and IoT. In fact, these investments, with significant innovations resulting already, are largely a leap of faith in advance of hoped-for IoT applications development and proof of demand for these.
Consumers are only beginning to use LTE in unlicensed spectrum. So far chatter has mostly been about operator trials, commercial chipsets and sales of devices to seed the market before anyone is to be able to use the new service feature. Nevertheless, the commercial impact will be quite dramatic within a few years.
Technology innovation by chip, device and equipment vendors plus intense competition among national oligopolies of mobile network operators has improved cellular performance and reduced costs to the enormous benefit of consumers. Meanwhile, recent financial gains in the mobile ecosystem are largely accruing to Silicon Valley's tech titans including Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Netflix. The massive network investments required for 5G may not be forthcoming if this imbalance persists.