Embedded systems: Vita adopts new policy on intellectual property used in standards

01/30/2007


Info control, embedded control, software, controllers

Vita Executive Director Ray Alderman explained the organization's policy at the Bus & Board show in Long Beach, CA.

Long Beach, CA —Vita, the VMEbus Trade Association, and its standard-setting body VSO made some history at the Bus & Board show in Long Beach, CA in January: By a 35-to-2 vote with 12 abstentions, VSO adopted a policy that requires any holder of intellectual property included in a new standard to which it is a party to reveal early in the process any patents (issued and pending) that have an essential bearing on the new standard, along with the maximum fee and royalty schedules. Those fees and royalties cannot then be increased, and must be applied in a non-discriminatory manner.

Failure to disclose patents in a timely way can result in the offending company being required to license the intellectual property for free. Patent law goes to great lengths to define a patent holder's right, explained Vita Executive Director Ray Alderman, but says nothing about responsibilities; these ex parte procedures, he said, define a patent holder's responsibilities.

The new policy is not universal, but will be applied on a per-standard basis. It is the culmination of about 18 months of legal maneuvering and negotiations with the Department of Justice, resulting in a business review letter approving it.

Alderman says there are major companies on both sides of this issue, to the point that one mega-corporation has been quietly lobbying European authorities against adopting similar rules. This is unlikely to succeed, he added, because he has been assured that the new policy is in agreement with existing European regulations, and that there would be no need for the European equivalent of a business review letter.

Alderman threw down the gauntlet to those who might disagree with Vita's action, essentially saying, 'Sue us and you'll have to take on the Department of Justice.'

A review copy of the policy will be sent to ANSI, said Alderman, but the Justice Dept, has previously said that a rejection by ANSI would constitute an antitrust violation. He added that other standards organizations are watching; IEEE, for example, has provisions for voluntary disclosure, but Vita's mandatory requirement is new. 'This is going to turn things upside down,' he says. He adds that there is interest in the new policy in the Federal Trade Commission, and in the U.S. Senate, which may consider using it in drafting a federal transparency law.

Information on the new ex parte policy is available on the Vita Website .

Click here to read more from Control Engineering on this matter.

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Submitted by Pete Cleaveland , contributing writer