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AllSeen IoT group acts to head off patent wars

AllSeen IoT group acts to head off patent wars

Its new policy says companies that contribute code pledge not to sue over their patents

Vendors that contribute software to the AllJoyn Internet of Things project will pledge not to sue companies that make use of that code in products.

The pledges are prescribed in new language being added to the policies of the AllSeen Alliance, which promotes AllJoyn, a software framework for building compatible connected products.

The group, which includes Qualcomm, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and more than 100 other vendors, is adopting a patent policy for the first time. The language will be announced in a blog post Thursday and become effective 90 days later.

Clear rules for using patented technology within AllJoyn could make vendors of IoT products feel safer using the software. AllSeen has already attracted 112 member companies with the promise of helping mobile devices, wearables, smart appliances and other connected things find each other and work together. Those companies include Sony, Panasonic, LG, China's Haier, and home-security company ADT.

It's a common practice for standards bodies to lay down patent rules to protect users from discrimination or exorbitant royalties. AllSeen hadn't done that yet because it was still working out how it would certify products, said Philip DesAutels, senior director of IoT for the group. It's now determined what each certified product has to be able to do with other AllJoyn-compliant gear and what capabilities will be optional, he said.

Members had been looking forward to getting a patent policy for AllSeen, DesAutels said. Until now, AllSeen's intellectual-property policies have only covered copyright. The Open Interconnect Consortium, a rival IoT group founded by Intel, Samsung and others, already has an IP policy dealing with patents. OIC licenses its standard under RAND-Z terms, requiring reasonable and non-discriminatory licenses with zero royalties. OIC's reference implementation, IoTivity, is distributed under the Apache 2.0 license.

Though there are a number of standard open-source licenses available, AllSeen wrote its own. That could make extra work for vendors that want to participate, as they'll need to review the specific language AllSeen has adopted, OIC spokesman and Intel product manager Gary Martz said.

"The industry's going to have questions," Martz said. He declined to comment on specifics of AllSeen's policy before seeing it.

Existing licenses didn't fit the alliance's needs, DesAutels said.

"The Alliance's IP Policy was crafted specifically for AllSeen to meet the objectives of the Alliance and its stakeholders - to create an ecosystem of billions of AllJoyn-enabled devices working together," he said via e-mail. "There was not an existing open source IP Policy that met our objectives."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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