WiMax Patent Pool, Looking a bit Shallow

According to Don Clark of the Wall Street Journal, Monday’s big WiMax announcement is going to be about a “patent pool” spearheaded by Cisco, Intel, Samsung and others, aimed at reducing the amounts developers (especially device developers) might have to pay for WiMax-related patents.

For Clearwire, Sprint and other service providers, having a group with Cisco and Alcatel/Lucent in it can’t hurt, since both those companies can probably bring big patent portfolios to bear. But until the real heavyweights of the wireless world sign up — as Clark notes in his story, neither Qualcomm nor Motorola is part of Monday’s pool party — the patent pool is somewhat on the shallow side.

Why is a patent pool important to WiMax’s development? While the “openness” of the planned Clearwire WiMax network may be attractive to independent device developers, the patent problem could be a bigger deterrent. Sure, it sounds great to think that you could build a device, and as long as it meets WiMax standards, you can sell it at Best Buy and customers could instantly connect to the Clearwire network. Sounds good.

But since that device isn’t subsidized or supported by Clearwire, don’t expect them to help out a lot should Qualcomm or say, Verizon’s lawyers come calling, asking for a piece of your profits should your device suddenly turn successful. Ask Jeff Citron how those battles end up.

Of course, Sprint is not shy when it comes to filing patent lawsuits, so at least the WiMax pool party will have someone around who knows how this game is played.

UPDATE: Cisco and Intel hosted a very disjointed press conference/webcast, with some speakers live in studio, some on the phone and some on webcast. Questions had to be submitted to a moderator, which meant that execs on the conference could dodge questions without complaint. (I asked the panel about what would happen if a non-alliance member sued an alliance member, and whether the alliance would help fight the lawsuit, and got a non-answer answer. Press release on the alliance is here on the Cisco site.)

Need to know more about WiMax? Order our recently updated WiMax report, with full analysis of the “new” Clearwire deal and the motivations for investors Comcast, Google, Intel and others.

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