RFID Consortium Brings Order to UHF Patents

By Mark Roberti

News that Convergence Systems Ltd. has joined the patent pool is another sign that the RFID industry is maturing and has dealt effectively with intellectual property issues.

A few weeks ago, I received a press release via email, with the headline "RFID Consortium Announces Patent Portfolio License to Convergence Systems Limited." As news goes, this was not big. RFID Journal covered it in our weekly news roundup (as opposed to a separate story—see RFID Consortium, Convergence Systems Ltd. Enter Patent Portfolio License). But I was pleased by it because it showed that the industry has matured and has developed a mechanism for dealing with issues, such as the sharing of patents.

The RFID Consortium dates back to 2005, when passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification technology was still in its infancy (see RFID Vendors Launch Patent Pool). At the time, there was a great deal of confusion regarding who owned the intellectual property used in the first-generation Electronic Product Code (EPC) air-interface protocol standard.

The consortium was modeled on those set up to manage patents for MPEG-2 and DVD technologies. Some 20 companies deemed to hold patents essential to the second-generation EPC standard founded the body to license intellectual property on a reasonable and nondiscriminatory (RAND) basis. Among the founding companies were Alien Technology, Applied Wireless Identifications Group (AWID), Avery Dennison, Moore Wallace (owned by global printing company RR Donnelley), Symbol Technologies (later acquired by Motorola), ThingMagic, Tyco Fire & Security and Zebra Technologies.

Not every company joined, of course. A firm called Round Rock Research acquired a number of patents relevant to the passive UHF RFID standard from Micron Technology, a semiconductor company. Round Rock sued several end users for infringing these patents, and makers of passive UHF RFID tags and readers had to sign separate licensing deals with Round Rock before end users could use the technology without facing the threat of legal action (see Round Rock Completes Licensing Deals With Majority of RFID Vendors).

The patent pool system tries to reduce this kind of litigation, which slows adoption (Walmart shut down its RFID efforts after being sued by Round Rock). It offers a way for technology solution providers to gain access to a broad range of relevant patents at a reasonable cost, thereby reducing the need for vendors to sue one another.

Alan Melling, a spokesperson for the RFID Consortium, told me that his organization offers an efficient, cost-effective way to obtain rights under multiple patents held by all consortiums members. "We put out the press release because we want to publicize that the consortium exists," Melling explained, "and other RFID companies can avail themselves of the patents in the patent pool."

CSL's arrangement with the RFID Consortium means it now has access to an international portfolio of essential UHF RFID patents for its tags, readers, antennas and modules, as well as other hardware. Joining will enable the company to develop the most cutting-edge products possible, given the intellectual property to which it now has access. It will also reassure CSL's customers that it has its IP in order.

The RFID industry is truly growing up.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.