Tech firms and regulators meet at UN over patent disputes

Leading tech firms, regulators and patent officers are due to meet at a UN conference held in Geneva later today to discuss how to prevent intellectual property disputes from "stifling" innovation.

The talks are being held by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency responsible for ensuring phone manufacturers agree to standards so that their devices can interact with each other.

The event follows a flood of lawsuits involving smartphone companies, most notably the dispute between tech giants Apple and Samsung. The legal war between them reached tipping point in August when a jury in the US found Samsung had violated patented technology and awarded Apple $1.05 billion (£650 million) in damages.

The conference will centre on what are known as fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory-type (FRAND) patents for innovations that are recognised as being critical to an industry standard. Firms who have these standard-essential patents must make them available to others at non-excessive fees.

Examples include technologies without which it would be impossible to view images on a device or connect a phone to a 3G network. The aim is to prevent gadgets from becoming exorbitantly expensive because a single device may make use of thousands of patented inventions.

"We are seeing an unwelcome trend in today's marketplace to use standard- essential patents to block markets," said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré when the event was announced.

The ITU hopes that this event will result in a change in regulations that would make patent lawsuits less common.

However, chip manufacturer Qualcomm has suggested that altering the rules could give rise to more, not less, litigation, as it would encourage firms to resist their inventions being classed as standard-essential.

"The so-called 'patent wars' should be seen for what they are: a small number of participants in a highly competitive industry in which change and innovation occur at lightning speed are locked in a ferocious battle to establish market positions for competing operating systems, with litigation being a marginal aspect of this contest," said Qualcomm in a statement issued before the event.

Samsung, Google, Research in Motion, Google, Apple, Intel, Philips, Huawei, Sony and Hewlett-Packard are among the firms who have registered to attend the event.