This Member Monday, we’re featuring one of our newest European members, AirTies, to learn about their innovative Wi-Fi access software and understand their experience when it comes to the licensing of standard-essential patents, as well as the threat that abusive behavior by licensors can pose to companies who scale quickly.

Billions of people around the globe depend on a reliable internet connection for work, school, health and more. The growth of the internet of things (IoT) environment has our refrigerators, light switches, and hundreds of other smart home devices relying on a robust internet connection through Wi-Fi to operate effectively. AirTies recognizes the ubiquitous need for Wi-Fi as the gateway to internet access and created a business that aims to extend the range of Wi-Fi signals to bring reliable wireless connectivity to the masses based on industry standards.

Getting Connected

Many think of the average user experience with Wi-Fi as “connect and go,” but Wi-Fi signals aren’t able to extend to every nook and cranny in your home. In fact, surveys from the United States and the UK show that 54 percent of customers call their internet service providers (ISPs) on a regular basis to deal with Wi-Fi coverage issues at home, with 71 percent reporting internet dead zones. Because of this inconsistency, 74 percent of users have expressed a willingness to pay more to have a premium Wi-Fi service.

AirTies team have recognized this problem and created AirTies Managed Wi-Fi Solution, an efficient and affordable solution that extends Wi-Fi signals to all the spots and corners that standalone Wi-Fi routers don’t reach. Their state-of-the-art, proprietary AirTies Mesh Software integrates with service provider internet gateways, TV set-top boxes, and AirTies Mesh Extenders to extend Wi-Fi access to every corner of the house.

The average household has between nine and 12 connected devices, and as that number grows so too could a connectivity problem. AirTies’ Remote Manager, a cloud software service technology improves the quality and reach of Wi-Fi networks and monitors home networks to solve connectivity problems before customers even realize there is an issue.

Boosting the Signal

To enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Wi-Fi signals, AirTies relies on the technical standards that are the foundation of Wi-Fi technology and builds upon them to compete with other technology developers. The Wi-Fi protocol is developed through the efforts of countless engineers in an open and consensus-based process by the standards-setting organization IEEE. As standards like Wi-Fi are developed through standards processes like IEEE’s, engineers will contribute patented technical solutions that become central to the standard, and use of that patented technology becomes a necessity to implementing the overall standard. In a tradeoff for a greater base of licensees, the patent contributor commits to provide access for any willing licensee on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. Any company—including AirTies—utilizing a widely-adopted industry standard, like Wi-Fi, must license access to those standard-essential patents (SEPs) and relies on that FRAND commitment in order to innovate.

AirTies’ experience with the SEP licensing process tells an important story of the dos and don’ts that IoT innovators sometimes learn the hard way, and it gives rise to concerns about how IoT’s evolution could be stunted. As AirTies has grown and competed in the marketplace, while responsibly addressing the need to attain SEP licenses, the company has experienced SEP holder behavior that runs counter to the letter and spirit of the FRAND commitment. They have experienced non-negotiable demands to sign uneven and nonreciprocal non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), withholding vital information to assess whether patent claims are indeed both valid and essential, threats of disproportionate injunctions, and other forms of gamesmanship aimed at tipping the scale in the favor of the SEP licensor despite the clear FRAND commitment that same licensor voluntarily made.

As IoT expands, experts predict that some 75 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. This explosion will generate entirely new modes of commerce and industry that will make the lives of consumers everywhere more efficient and affordable, and change enterprises across all sectors of the economy. Underpinning IoT is a standards environment that needs to take into consideration the interests of all stakeholders involved, and not just those who hold SEPs. AirTies believes this balance can be achieved by developing and advancing understanding, across the ecosystem, about what an honored FRAND commitment means: SEP licensing terms should be clear, transparent, and predictable.

The App Association is proud to have AirTies as a member and is committed to helping digital economy small business innovators around the world realize balanced standards and SEP licensing ecosystems. The App Association will be organizing a workshop this year for SMEs that would like to know more about the licensing of SEPs, what opportunities they present, and what to look out for. Please keep an eye out for more details on our website.