The IEEE’s empirical record of success and innovation following patent policy updates


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the world’s largest technical professional organization, with hundreds of thousands of members. As a United States-based standards organization (SSO), the IEEE has successfully standardized thousands of foundational technologies, including critical communications standards such as Wi-Fi and Ethernet. In 2015, the IEEE updated its Patent Licensing Policy, which explains how IEEE participants agree to license their Standards Essential Patents (SEPs), covering IEEE standards on reasonable terms. and non-discriminatory. In response to claims that the IEEE’s standardization work has been affected by the policy update, this report presents a careful empirical analysis of the IEEE’s standardization work since 2015.

There are several metrics to assess the strength and health of an SSO such as IEEE. One metric that is not particularly useful is counting the number of reported SEPs submitted to the IEEE as letters of assurance. Theoretically, counting the number of letters of assurance submitted can provide insight into which companies most actively support the technical development of an IEEE standard. However, this does not apply to the IEEE as most letters of assurance submitted are so-called “general” statements that do not specify particular patents and make general statements for any SEPs that a submitting company may. own. Most standard contributors will only submit general statements once at the start of the standard project, so the number of general letters of assurance submitted over time will often decrease by design. General statements are therefore neither quantifiable nor updated (i.e. even if an IEEE member contributes to an IEEE standard and files new patents relevant to the standard, these patents are covered by previous letters of assurance and new submissions are optional).

One case estimated that general letters of assurance for the Wi-Fi standard (802.11) made up a considerable share (about 90%) of all essential patents for 802.11 (see Microsoft Corp v Motorola, Inc, findings of fact and conclusions of law, 2013 US Dist LEXIS 60233 at paragraph 335 WD Wash, April 25, 2013). Since these courts find that most 802.11 SEPs are subject to general letters of assurance, counting letters of assurance is arguably meaningless.

In view of these letter of assurance count limits, this report presents statistics on standardization-related activities before and after the 2015 patent policy update. Over the past two decades, standardization has increased. evolved from a simple coordination on common specifications to the joint development of complex technological platforms. The analysis of normative activities has proved to be an excellent indicator for measures of innovation and technological development.

While increased activity and the publication of standardization documents are not the only measures of SSO’s success, such activity suggests that businesses and other innovators in the community continue to engage with SSO and participate in SSO. his projects. At the IEEE, more standards were published and accepted in 2017 than in any other year in its history. Specifically, the number of published IEEE standards documents decreased from 2012 to 2014 (before the patent policy update), but this trend reversed in 2015 when the update went into effect, culminating with the new historic peak of 2017 (Figure 1). IEEE members can request to initiate new standards projects by submitting new project authorization requests. In 2017, a record 112 new project authorization requests were submitted to the IEEE and approximately 85 project authorization requests for updating existing standards. Measured in both directions (i.e. counting either new project authorization requests or total project authorization requests), 2017 was the IEEE’s most active year in date for new standardization work (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Number of IEEE standards published each year and newly launched project authorization requests

Another indication of the acceptance of IEEE standards is their rate of accreditation by other standards bodies. We examined the international accreditation rates of IEEE documents in recent years and counted the number of accredited IEEE standards per year – the results confirmed a positive trend in international accreditations after 2015 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Number of IEEE international accreditation documents from 2000 to 2017

Moving from general standardization work at the IEEE to specific work related to the ubiquitous IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi standard, a similar positive trend has emerged after the adoption of the update policy on IEEE. patents. The 802.11 standard is particularly abundant in patents and, according to the findings of the courts, has several thousand patents declared essential under the IEEE patent policy.

Our analysis focused on counting contributions submitted to the most important Wi-Fi working group in recent years: the Task Group (TCax), which is working on the specification of the 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard. TCax can be used as a measure of activity, engagement, and willingness to contribute to the innovation that is the proprietary 802.11 tech group, as it is the largest Wi-Fi project in the past five years.

Figure 3 shows that contributions to the 802.11ax working group reached an all-time high in 2017 (over 1,300 submissions). The sharp increase in technical contributions from 2014 to 2017 confirms that the activity of the 802.11 working group has not decreased following the patent policy updates of 2015.

Figure 3: Technical contributions subject to 802.11ax

IEEE data has also been sorted to identify the most active technical contributors to 802.11ax. As shown in Figure 4, the main technical contributors to 802.11ax were:

  • Qualcomm;
  • Intel;
  • Huawei;
  • Newracom; and
  • Broadcom.

Intel and Qualcomm were together responsible for about 25% of all technical contributions to the 802.11ax project. Other top 10 contributors include:

  • Marvell;
  • MediaTek;
  • LG;
  • ZTE; and
  • Apple.
Figure 4: Technical contributions to 802.11ax (out of a total of 3,968 contributions); Top 5 contributors followed by contributors who submitted negative letters of assurance

Reports indicate that a handful of companies have submitted so-called “negative” letters of assurance following the 2015 policy updates, in which patent holders indicate their willingness to license a product. basis other than the new IEEE patent policy (eg, a previous policy basis).

802.11ax participation spans the period following the 2015 policy updates, but there is a lack of substantial activity regarding technical contributions from the five companies that submitted negative letters of assurance (i.e. i.e. Ericsson, InterDigital, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent and Orange) either before or after the update. In addition, these companies are absent from the main contributors. For example, Ericsson has submitted roughly half as many contributions as the tenth contributor, Apple, which some authors have sought to portray (apparently wrongly) as a mere standards implementer. The same goes for InterDigital, whose contributions were even smaller. Nokia was the 23rd contributor with only 0.675% of the overall contributions, while Orange and Alcatel-Lucent made no contribution to 802.11ax.

Thus, all of the most active technical contributors to 802.11 – both before and after the IEEE Policy Update – have submitted Letters of Assurance to comply with the IEEE Patent Policy by through their own statements or through general letters of assurance, and none issued negative letters of assurance. assurance.

The following conclusions were drawn on the basis of public information:

  • More standards documents were completed and published in 2017 than in any other year in the history of the IEEE.
  • More new standardization projects were launched at the IEEE in 2016 and 2017 than ever before in the history of the organization.
  • Contributions to the IEEE technical working groups – particularly the 802.11 working group – are at historically high levels.
  • The largest technological contributors to the IEEE continue to declare their patents subject to the IEEE patent policy.
  • The handful of companies that have issued negative statements are not and never were among the most active contributors to 802.11; the data indicates that they are relatively minor actors in the development of the standard and that some contribute nothing at all.

Our analysis shows that 2017 was a banner year for IEEE standardization work, both generally and in the 802.11 working group. Far more meaningful metrics than simply counting letters of assurance (or negative letters of assurance from companies that are by no means major technical contributors) indicate that the IEEE standardization work is flourishing. and that its technical ecosystem is such that technical development has been and is being driven by other companies.

This report is an excerpt from an ongoing study of technical development and innovation activities within the IEEE standards organization. IPlytics’ platform uses a variety of data sources to clarify how to count and analyze data in markets where patents and standards are important

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