Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Productive publishing period

In terms of quantity, 2009 was my most productive year ever for academic publishing. After publishing three journal articles in 2008, in 2009 I published five: one about telecommunications, one about standards, two about telecommunications standards and one about open innovation.

The first two articles were based on a four-year collaboration with my now-friend Rudi Bekkers, looking at patents in W-CDMA. One paper focused more on the case study of standardization, while the second paper looked at the quality and timing of essential patents as laid against the standardization process. The latter paper was published in Telecommunications Policy, the leading academic journal on, well, telecommunications policy.

Building on Rudi’s earlier pathbreaking papers on GSM patenting, we noted several shifts from the 2G to 3G era in European mobile phone standards. The number of essential patents increased eightfold and the number of claimants increased threefold. Equipment makers retained about the same proportion of overall patents, but the network operators virtually disappeared, replaced by component suppliers (notably Qualcomm) and technology licensing firms (notably InterDigital).

These were our conclusions:

The sources of UMTS patent proliferation have often been ascribed to IPR-focused companies outside the ETSI process, particularly Qualcomm and InterDigital. However, this study shows that the largest numbers of patents are held by two firms (Nokia and Ericsson) centrally involved in the UMTS standardization, and the timing of their patenting suggests that they used their knowledge of the standard’s development for anticipatory patenting—further contributing to patent proliferation.

Still, a cozy oligopoly of four main UMTS patent holders might have produced a manageable IPR regime comparable that to the five major holders of GSM patents. However, the number of firms claiming at least a one patent has grown threefold, increasing the risk of holdup, transaction costs and royalty stacking for firms implementing the newer standard. This uncertainty is magnified by the self-determination of essentiality: while it is virtually impossible to determine how many of the 1227 patents are actually necessary to implement UMTS, at the same time other parties may fail to provide an itemized list of essential patents.
This was not even the longest collaboration of the papers. One paper was based on an eight-year collaboration with my friend Scott Gallagher, which began when we met during the bubble era conference of the Strategic Management Society (2001) in San Francisco.

Then as now, the goal was to re-examine, critique and extend the traditional view of positive feedback in the adoption of standardized goods. We brought together a number of observations that (when we started) were somewhat novel, although the field has not stood still during that period. After many delays (including other projects, work and life), the paper was published in September in the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, a respectable journal that has attracted papers from some of the top names in the field

I’ve already mentioned on my other blogs the two other papers published in 2009.

In April, I published the cover article in the Journal of San Diego History, based on my research into the origins of the San Diego telecom industry. The paper was entitled “Before Qualcomm” to make it more relevant to the general readership, and traced the early round of spinoffs of Linkabit, the region’s seminal company. It also included discussions of the role of Qualcomm co-founders Andy Viterbi and Irwin Jacobs in applying Claude Shannon’s to space communications, drawing on my 2008 article in the Journal of Management Studies.

The fifth paper is the first in what I hope will be a series of papers that contrast open innovation with user innovation and related theories. Published in the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, it (not surprisingly) focuses on policy issues related to open, user (and cumulative) innovation.

I’ll be glad to send out a PDF of the published version of any paper to anyone who’s interested.

This morning I got email notice of acceptance of my first paper for 2010, a paper on the success of the iPhone that will be published by Telecommunications Policy. Michael Mace have been working on this paper since 2007 — actually before the iPhone shipped — although our understanding of the phenomenon has shifted significantly since then. Additional details as they become available.



Rudi Bekkers and Joel West, “Standards, Patents and Mobile Phones: Lessons from ETSI’s Handling of UMTS,” International Journal of IT Standards & Standardization Research, 7, 1 (January 2009), 13-34.

Rudi Bekkers and Joel West, “The Limits to IPR Standardization Policies as Evidenced by Strategic Patenting in UMTS,” Telecommunications Policy, 33, 1-2 (Feb.-March 2009): 80-97. DOI: 10.1016/j.telpol.2008.11.003

Scott Gallagher and Joel West, “Reconceptualizing and expanding the positive feedback network effects model: A case study,” Journal of Engineering and Technology Management 26, 3 (Sept. 2009): 131-147. DOI: 10.1016/j.jengtecman.2009.06.007

Joel West, “Before Qualcomm: Linkabit and the Origins of the San Diego Telecom Industry,” Journal of San Diego History, 55, 1-2 (Winter/Spring 2009): 1-20.

Joel West, “Policy Challenges of Open, Cumulative, and User Innovation,Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 30 (2009): 17-41.

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