Comment: It’s not too late for ‘weightless’ innovators to join IoT race


Ofcom - TV White-spaces

Ofcom – TV White-spaces

Denis Keseris, patent attorney at Withers & Rogers, writes that it’s not too late to join the innovation race and profit from the ‘Internet of Things’ revolution. This includes smaller R&D-oriented businesses developing products that make use of the ‘weightless’ standard.

2014 has been billed as a big year for machine-to-machine, or M2M, technologies in the UK.

The UK’s telecoms regulator Ofcom is preparing to open up part of its spectrum known as ‘white space’ (the analogue bandwidth left as a result of the digital TV switchover) to a number of companies for dynamic spectrum access trials.

Some lead innovators (ARM Holdings, Neul and BT) will be involved in these trials. On their completion in the third quarter, Ofcom is expected to launch a nationwide solution for the use of ‘white space’, signalling the opening up of the spectrum to new spectrum sharing devices, many of which will implement the ‘weightless’ standard.

At this point it will be possible for other innovators whose products use the ‘weightless’ standard to join the main players in the innovation race to the ‘Internet of Things’.

Weightless is emerging as one of the dominant standards that innovators can use when developing devices having M2M capabilities – the communications technology needed to realise the ‘Internet of Things’. The establishment of weightless as a standard will give innovators a good opportunity to bring products to market quickly and profit as a result.

The likes of Neul and ARM Holdings are certainly at the front of the pack when it comes to developing and trialling market-ready products but they are not so far ahead that others can’t enter the marketplace and provide complementary, or even competing, products.

The trials themselves are an interesting project for Ofcom.

The ‘weightless’ trials planned for this year will use ‘dynamic spectrum access’ for the first time. This means instead of having fixed bandwidth constraints for each particular type of use, these new devices will use their ‘cognitive’ abilities to adapt their behaviour in response to similar devices operating around them. In this way, the devices themselves will work out how best to communicate with each other. This is an interesting step and means innovators will learn a vast amount about how devices might behave in a much more dynamic space.

The ‘Internet of Things’ vision of a future where the world around us – at home and in our towns and cities – is controlled by interoperable machines has already inspired a raft of R&D-led businesses to join the innovation race. These businesses now need to prepare to move quickly.

To secure any early mover advantage, it will be important that innovators develop a sophisticated intellectual property strategy that takes into account the particularities of the proposed Weightless Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) agreement. The licensing structure, which is managed by Weightless Contracting, will offer licences in respect of patent rights relating to terminals on a royalty-free basis, while offering those relating to base stations under more traditional Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

This structure, which is similar in some respect to the Bluetooth licensing model, will require innovators to think carefully about how they seek patent protection for inventions which they intend to market and possibly submit as an extension to the weightless standard.

Denis Keseris, patent attorney at Withers & Rogers, with specialist knowledge of the electronics and communications sectors

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