Companies and individuals that participate in technical standard setting can help to drive the future of technology development. New and innovative technical solutions, such as emerging technologies associated with the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT), will heavily rely on technical standards to facilitate communications between myriad devices and objects, affecting all sorts of different industries beyond traditional technology and telecommunication businesses, such as automotive, buildings and construction, energy metering, traffic management and medical instruments.
Standards development organizations (SDOs) recognize that technical standards often incorporate technologies that are subject to patents owned by participants in the development of a standard. To address this issue and associated competition law concerns, standard organizations often adopt patent policies requiring their members to agree to license such standard essential patents (SEPs) on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. This report seeks to evaluate empirically whether the 2015 IEEE patent policy updates influenced its members and more particularly their willingness to contribute technologies, and to make associated R&D investments, in support of ongoing development of IEEE 802 standards. Our report is the third of our reports addressing the empirical record after the IEEE’s patent policy updates.
To conduct our study, we used the IPlytics Platform tool that integrates standards contribution data from the IEEE’s Mentor database. The database collects and makes public information regarding technical contributions to IEEE working groups, such as the standards document identification number, the relevant working group, the date of submission, and the authors of the contribution with name and company affiliation.
Our findings are that:
- The number of technical contributions submitted in IEEE 802 working groups has continued to increase since the IEEE patent policy updates, and was in 2018 at the highest level in IEEE’s history;
- The level of technical contributions submitted to leading IEEE 802.11 standards projects initiated after 2015 parallels, and to some extent exceeds, the level of contributions submitted to leading IEEE 802.11 standards projects prior to 2015.
- The increase of technical contributions in patent-heavy IEEE 802 working groups closely parallels the increase in technical contributions for IEEE 802 standards where no patent declarations were filed, suggesting that patent policy considerations have not been a significant factor in companies’ decisions about whether to invest in and submit technologies to IEEE 802 working groups;
- The increase in technical contributions to IEEE 802 working groups beyond 2015 does not appear to be biased by external factors (e.g., changes in the commercial value of a standard).
In short, in this third installment of our analysis of the empirical record since the IEEE patent policy updates, we once again conclude that the IEEE has continued to prosper in its development of technical standards, and that companies are in fact expanding their technical engagement with, investments in, and support for IEEE’s standards development processes.
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