Mobile technology pioneer InterDigital has been shopping its vast and broad patent portfolio around for some time, and on Monday it said it had a taker. Intel has scooped up 1700 of its patents for $375 million, bulking up the chipmaker’s intellectual property holdings in the increasingly critical mobile networking sector.
According to Intel, the patents relate to 3G, LTE and IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) technologies, networking technologies falls right in in InterDigital’s sweet spot. Back in the 1970s and 80s, InterDigital played the lead role in developing Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), which became the basis for the GSM networks that most of the world’s carriers eventually adopted. Qualcomm’s competing Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) eventually overshadowed TDMA, becoming the basis for all future 3G networks. But InterDigital continued innovating on top of its rival’s technology, contributing substantially to the 3G and LTE standards.
“These patents will support Intel’s strategic investments in the mobile segment,” Intel SVP and general counsel Doug Melamed said in a statement. “The addition of these patents expands our already large, strong and diverse portfolio of intellectual property.”
The patents represent only a fraction of InterDigital 20,000 wireless patents, so Intel isn’t suddenly going to propel itself to major mover status in wireless tech. In a Chetan Sharma Consulting’s recent quantitative study of mobile intellectual property holders, Intel didn’t even show up in the top 10 lists of handset and network patent holders (for that matter neither did InterDigital), though it did come in No. 8 in the rankings of total U.S. wireless patents issued.
Intel is certainly no stranger to mobile networking. Its early attempts to commercialize WiMAX may have flopped, but lately Intel has become much more aggressive in the space. It bought handset radio maker Infineon in 2010 and is trying to crack the smartphone and tablet processor markets with its Atom chips. But where the InterDigital patents may come in most useful – apart from serving as bulwark against an increasingly litigious wireless industry – is in the radio network.
Intel has ambitions of becoming a network vendor, using its Xeon processors to virtualize the radio access network network in the cloud. Called cloud-RAN, Intel is currently trialing the technology with the world’s largest operator China Mobile.