Changes to IEEE licensing policy undermine its own mission to benefit privileged few

Macro photo of electrical paths on blue circuit board, selective focus.

The recent changes to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) patent licensing policy undermines the standard body’s mission to foster innovation for the “benefit of humanity”. The changes will create more uncertainty for licensing of patents essential to IEEE standards, but will do little to quell the hostility toward IEEE from a small group of companies that have aggressively pushed for IEEE to amend its existing policy.

Since 2021, IEEE has engaged in a review process of its 2015 patent licensing policy as a result of sustained campaign from a small group of companies pushing for changes that would enable them to engage in aggressive litigation tactics for licensing of patents essential to IEEE standards like the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard. IEEE recently announced changes to the 2015 patent licensing policy. The review process was limited to a small ad hoc committee of past and current members of the IEEE Standards Association Board of Governors.

“It is disconcerting that the IEEE Board of Governors gave in to pressure from a minority of stakeholders with specific business interests, which were seemingly given precedence over the interests of the vast majority of industry participants supporting the 2015 policy,” said Evelina Kurgonaite, Secretary General of the Fair Standards Alliance.

The only opportunity for public consultation the IEEE provided saw an overwhelming support for the 2015 policy. The changes also disregard the fact that the US Department of Justice revoked its 2020 update to the 2015 Business Review Letter, which had created the impetus for considering a review of the IEEE licensing policy.

The process by which a small group of companies with business models based on monetising standard essential patents, primarily for cellular standards created by 3GPP, not IEEE, can pressure IEEE to neglect interests of the majority raises serious concerns over the undue influence these companies have on standard development policy.

The FSA will continue to engage with IEEE leadership and the rest of industry to mitigate the impact of the recent changes on business, so that the IEEE’s mission of advancing technology for the “benefit of humanity” is not abandoned to benefit the privileged few.

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