Standards and Intellectual Property

by Rob Harrison on 24 November 2008

This is the first post from Rob Harrison — Rob will become a regular contributor to Tangible IP. You can also follow Rob and issues of IP and money at the IP Finance blog, where he also posts. – JH

One of the issues that we deal with on a regular basis is the interrelationship between technical standards and Intellectual Property.

The degree of misconception is immense. Some companies (erroneously) think that by contributing to the standard developments activities they cannot file patents. Other companies file numerous patents (or at least provisional patents) on ideas before they contribute to the standards development – and hope that these ideas are incorporated into the standards. Whilst most standards development bodies require disclosure about relevant (or essential) patents, there seem to be few sanctions available against companies that do not provide full disclosure. Other companies go too far – and declare far too many patents or applications to be essential to the implementation of the standard. And patents can still be held by companies which have played no part in the development process.

The European Commission has been studying the problem and the European Competitiveness Council discussed the matter on 25 September 2008 and issued a number of conclusions (PDF).

Conclusion 17 reads that the Council…

recognises that both standards and patents are innovation dissemination tools and supports the carrying out of a study by the European Commission to analyse the interplay between the two.

The European Commission then organised a conference on 19 November in Brussels on the matter: IPR in ICT standardisation workshop 2008. This website is an absolute mine of information on the latest thinking from a number of players in the standardisation field.

It is difficult to see where this will lead: Clearly standardisation is important to improve competitiveness. However, different standards are applied to different markets. Is it possible to develop a single “overall” policy – or would it be better to discuss best practices?

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