Renault, Stellantis and Toyota are the latest automakers to join a platform for patent licenses from tech companies, aiming to simplify access to wireless technology and avoid costly legal battles.
Conflicts have stemmed in part from different views among automakers, suppliers and tech companies over who should shoulder the cost of licensing.
Through independent licensing marketplace Avanci, automakers gain access to patents for 2G, 3G and 4G technology from companies including Finland’s Nokia, Sweden’s Ericsson and Taiwan’s Acer for everything from navigation systems to sensors for automated driving.
Avanci charges a flat fee of $20 per car, increased this month from $15 previously, with the money distributed among patent holders.
The new signings, which also include Nissan and Honda, mean that 80-85 percent of cars with 2G technology or higher are licensed through the platform, Avanci vice president Mark Durrant said in an interview.
The model allows automakers to avoid the battles over royalties that took place between smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung and telecoms companies, who negotiate one-on-one for licenses.
“The auto market is just too splintered for it to be worth it for patent owners to negotiate with each individual player,” said an industry source, who declined to be named because of contractual agreements. “It’s a matter of efficiency.
Mercedes, VW patent disputes
Mercedes-Benz, then Daimler, ended a years-long dispute over its patent use last year with Nokia after being eventually forced to pay.
Volkswagen Group was sued by Acer for using its 4G technology without the appropriate license. The automaker in March signed with Avanci, which covers Acer’s patents, in order to settle.
Suppliers have historically paid for patent licenses in areas like engine design, but tech companies would rather deal directly with automakers over telecoms patents, according to an auto industry source with experience of licensing negotiations.
“Usually, suppliers handle patents in the development process – telecoms is the one area where they do not,” said the person, who declined to be named.
Avanci is also working with companies on a new contract to cover 5G patents, which would likely be more expensive than the current patent portfolio.