TransCore patents seen as obstacle national interoperability - toll industry leaders asking for clarification
2012-11-18: Patents on electronic toll systems in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and other states using 6B+ sticker tags are seen as a possible obstacle to national interoperability. TransCore patents on eGo Plus sticker tag systems are of sufficient concern for the leaders of several toll authorities to raise the issue directly with TransCore management.
What they want to know is whether TransCore will accept other suppliers' readers being used to read TransCore tags and how far they will cooperate with tollers in getting good read rates on those tags.
It is not clear exactly what patent rights TransCore claims on these systems which amount to about a quarter of all electronic toll transponders in use in the US (about 9 million out of 35m total.)
The tags which use a protocol called eGo and an upgrade called SeGO are both based around the ISO 18000 6B open standard. But TransCore has certain patents on the way its 6B tags work and their extra encryption - hence the term '6B+' to describe the TransCore tags.
Key people involved in trying to shape an approach to national interoperability in the toll industry say they cannot get a clear indication from TransCore executives on whether they'll sue for infringement of patents if they use 3M, Kapsch, Raytheon or other multiprotocol readers to read 6B+ tags.
We asked TransCore:
"Q: If 3M/Sirit, Kapsch or other suppliers of multiprotocol readers supply readers that can read TransCore's Sego/eGo 6B tags do they, in TransCore's view, encroach on TransCore's intellectual property rights?"
We haven't got any response. after two weeks.
Nor apparently have their biggest customers, the toll authorities of Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.
TransCore's mute condition - TransCore's aphasia as one put it - has been all the talk in meetings of the Alliance for Toll Interoperability and the IBTTA's Interoperability Committee, and there was agreement recently that the company must be subject to concerted high level pressure to state its position.
If TransCore were to assert that its patent rights rule out non-TransCore readers reading the 6B+ tags then they'd have to consider swapping out the 6B+ tags for 6C open standard tags. Georgia SRTA and Washington State DOT have already done this. It would be expensive but "quite doable" according to one official. They think TransCore may only cave if presented with a credible threat to dump TransCore and go to 6C.
TransCore's Encompass 6 multi protocol reader used to list 6C as among the protocols it could read, but no longer lists it. There are two interpretations of this - one that the read performance of 6C wasn't adequate, another that TransCore didn't want to encourage switching to 6C by warranting the readers' performance with the rival protocol.
Regardless TransCore's silence casts a cloud of uncertainty over how best to handle the need to achieve national interoperability in electronic tolling across America by the 2016 deadline mandated in US law under MAP21.
There are two theories about TransCore's silence: (1) that they haven't made up their minds about how best to handle it (2) that they've decided their best course of action is to stay mute and just leave everyone guessing. That way they preserve maximum flexibility to react as circumstances develop.
The trouble is their biggest customers are getting fed up. And it might get to the point where they lose a huge slab of business to rivals offering open standard equipment.
IAG now open
Mark IV used to take the same stance on the E-ZPass IAG protocols, saying they owned the patent rights and only others could read their tags if they bought a license. But Mark IV was acquired by Kapsch and they recently renounced all their claims to IAG property rights and said they plan to publish all the previous patented code and specifications for anyone to use - making the IAG protocols an open standard.
TransCore engineers have worked with IAG systems for years under maintenance contracts and have offered a multi protocol reader to read the tags for several years. It has no secrets. And patents were either expired, or close to expired.
But the Kapsch move has put pressure on TransCore to take 6B+ open too. Or at least to declare its claims so people know where they stand.
eGo PLus tag
Encompass 6 reader