Gen 2 Moves Closer to Approval

By Mark Roberti

The second-generation Electronic Product Code specification was approved for candidate status, the last stage before being ratified as a standard.

Members of EPCglobal's Hardware Action Group (HAG) met in Baltimore on Oct. 1 and voted to move the specification for a second-generation Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard to candidate status, the last stage before final ratification.

EPCglobal's Hutchison

"We felt good about he technical work that's been done, and we were ready to move this along to the next stage," says Sue Hutchinson, product manager at EPCglobal US, in Lawrenceville, N.J., and the person overseeing the work of the HAG. "As far as we're concerned, we're on track for a fall ratification by the board of governors."

The Chicago review committee, a subcommittee of the Gen 2 working group, spent several weeks going through more than 500 comments regarding the last-call working draft of the Gen 2 spec. Slight modifications to the draft were made to incorporate useful suggestions from those comments. Ninety percent of those HAG members who were present at the meeting last week voted to approve the spec, according to Hutchinson.

The next step is to produce prototype tags and readers based on the specification. Hutchinson says that it should not take long for vendors to create working products, since several, including Texas Instruments and Philips Semiconductor, have been designing RFID microchips based on earlier drafts of the standard. The purpose of creating prototypes is not to test the performance of the spec but rather to validate the spec by showing that vendors can build functioning products based on the spec.

The next stage after the validation test is to submit the spec to EPCglobal’s board of governors for ratification as an EPC standard. The board includes end users of the technology, such as Dick Cantwell, VP at Gillette; Linda Dillman, CIO at Wal-Mart; Steve David, CIO at Procter & Gamble; and Alan Estevez, head of supply chain integration for the U.S. Department of Defense. No date has been set for a vote because the timing will depend on how quickly prototypes can be delivered. But Hutchison says she is confident that the vote will be held this fall.

There is one potential wrinkle that could delay a vote. EPCglobal, which was set up by EAN-UCC to commercialize EPC technology, is negotiating a reasonable and nondiscriminatory (RAND) licensing agreement with Intermec Technologies, which says that it holds patents that would be infringed by the Gen 2 spec. If the two sides do not come to an agreement, it's possible that EPCglobal will try to strip the elements from the spec that Intermec says infringe its patents.

"That's part of the standards development process," says Hutchinson. "We remain committed to the objective of putting forth a royalty-free spec. The history of the last 25 years has proven that that's a great way to get the market economics jump-started."

Stripping out the Intermec IP from the spec would likely mean companies creating prototype tags and readers based on the spec would have to make significant revisions. That would likely delay the voting for final ratification.

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