Out in Front: Brussels Calling

June 1, 2010  - By
Image: GPS World

The European Commission rang up the other day, concerned that a recent column contained misperceptions about the Galileo Open Service Signal-in-Space Interface Control Document (ICD). I replied that if misperception exists, it is shared by at least some in industry. Though the EC has abandoned a plan to charge for licenses, its requirement for a free license and continued talk of patents on the Galileo signal dampen industry enthusiasm for making Galileo receivers, at least in North America.

Herewith, some Brussels counterpoint. “In the previous [ICD] there were some patents characterizing the signal, that could not be commercially exploited. The new publication completely removes these. We now propose a licensing agreement that aims to eliminate any barrier in the wide exploitation of the asset. Both licenses [research and manufacture] are based on non-discrimination. There is no exclusive basis, and they are absolutely free of charge. Furthermore, there is no geographical limitation.

“Regarding the duration of the license, we are assuming 10 years. We believe this is a proper timeframe, considering the lifecycle investment of this sector. A patent can be enforced for 20 years. The patents that we own are already about five or six years old. If you add 10 years, you almost get to the end.

“We ask companies to provide us with information on the use of these patents: whether they are used for high-precision receivers, for testing purposes, and so on. We ask for an update on a yearly basis, for information on the intended use. The only purpose is to have a good grip on the marketing, to guarantee a traceability of market needs, to interpret its evolution in a fast-changing context, and therefore enable the Commission to closely follow and support customer needs. In case a manufacturer will develop some patent on top of our patents, they have to notify us. That is, I believe, standard practice.

“It is not our intention to create barriers to access of this signal. Manufacturers have nothing to fear from providing basic information in these licenses. We want to foster innovation and promote competition.

“It might seem we are a team of lawyers creating problems where there should not be any. I am an aerospace engineer, not a lawyer.

“[Complaints] could be more a point of perception. In concrete terms, we are not much different [than GPS]. We want to keep track of what we are giving away for free. We want the widest possible access to the signals. If there are any doubts, we invite manufacturers to contact us directly to work out any misunderstandings.”

The EC was sincerely surprised to learn of discontent with the process and the patents, and hopes to have further dialog with all manufacturers.

I was puzzled by the patents: why were they taken in the first place? It’s as if you had drawn a line in the sand, from which you now feel unable to back away, even though you might like to, and it’s clearly the best idea. The EC maintains these date from the public-private partnership effort, where intelllectual property rights were (IPR) were for the private sector a non-negligible form of revenue. Since funding has shifted to public money, “the situation has changed, and we have modified our approach.”

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