ATSC 3.0 Patent Fight Continues – Industry Tells the FCC to Stay out of It

The FCC’s ATSC 3.0 docket lit up this week with stakeholders urging the FCC to stay out of a patent dispute that threatens the emerging over the air television standard. I summarized some of these filings in my latest video.

Here’s the background: a few weeks ago LG announced they were removing ATSC 3.0 tuners from their new televisions. This decision came as the result of lawsuit that found LG in violation of a patent owned by a small company called Constellation Designs. This was a significant development because LG is one of the key partners who helped developed the ATSC 3 standard, and the patent covers how the ATSC 3 broadcast signal works.

In announcing their decision, LG asked the FCC to seriously consider enforcing “reasonable and non-discriminatory” (RAND) practices for all patents related to the ATSC 3.0 standard. RAND terms ensure that even if a technologies that make up the standard are developed by competing companies everybody is treated equally and fairly when it comes to licensing that technology to implement the standard.

In the case of ATSC 3.0 there are patent pools that roll-up all of the patents with each manufacturer paying a very reasonable fee to license everything. You can learn more in my video on the topic.

RAND practices have been a part of the ATSC 1.0 standard from the beginning, with the FCC adding them to the regulation in 1996. But with ATSC 3.0, broadcasters and TV makers asked the FCC to allow them to regulate RAND behavior outside of government regulation. This means that the ATSC 3.0 standards body, not the FCC, enforces RAND requirements.

The only penalty for not complying is getting kicked out of the ATSC association. But in the recent patent case against LG, Constellation Designs was never a part of the association in the first place so they had nothing to lose. And now Constellation Designs will collect royalties for their single patent that are 6 times higher than the cost for licensing the entire patent pool.

The industry’s response to LG’s suggestion of FCC regulation of RAND practices is one of vehement opposition. The National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Technology Association, One Media LLC (a subsidiary of Sinclair broadcasting) and even one of the patent pool administrators all registered their strong opposition. They believe that the transition to ATSC 3.0 should remain voluntary and market-based even with the risk of patent trolls coming out of the woodwork.

So, what’s next for the ATSC 3.0 patent fight? I think it’s likely that one of the ATSC principles will buy Constellation Designs to remove them from the equation. However, the threat of other potential patent holders finding their way to court remains. Without regulation around the RAND requirement, there’s room for groups to exploit potential loopholes – especially as there is no penalty from patent holders outside the ATSC group from suing.

For now, LG will wait things out as they file an appeal and perhaps hope for a friendly suitor for Constellation Designs. Until then, their new televisions won’t have ATSC 3.0 tuners.

As this story unfolds, I’ll be here to keep you informed. Stay tuned for more updates on this evolving topic.