The technology behind the Qi charging standard, so recently adopted by Nokia for its Lumia handset, is being sold off by its owner – which was only using it to power a water filter and sell some makeup.
eCoupled was developed by Fulton Innovation to power the eSpring water filter which is sold by Amway. Fulton quickly saw the potential for wireless charging and has spent the last decade or so trying to convince everyone else that it’s a good idea, and now that it looks to be making some progress, its parent company has decided the time is right to get shot of the whole thing.
That owner is Alticor, which also owns Amway - the ziggurat*-scheme for selling cleaning products, makeup and, it seems, water filters. The design of the eSpring filter - a countertop product for paranoid rehydrators - necessitated a pump entirely surrounded by water, which promoted the creation of the eCoupled technology.
Fulton Innovation spent a few years showing off everything the technology could do, running a grill and a blender to show it all worked, then bought up the patent portfolio of the UK wireless-charging pioneer SplashPower when that went titsup.
At the end of 2008, Fulton gathered the interested parties together and created the Wireless Power Consortium, which in turn spawned the "Qi" standard and spent a few years telling anyone who would listen how marvellous the technology would be for mobile telephones.
Meanwhile Qualcomm bought up another innovator, WiPower, and earlier this year announced, with Samsung, the formation of the Alliance for Wireless Power with its own (as yet unpublished) standard.
Then Nokia announced it would be using Qi for its flagship Lumia handset, and providing a Qi-compatible case for the lower-end model, giving a serious boost to both the Qi standard and the very concept of wireless charging. Soon Virgin Atlantic was saying it would fit out its Heathrow Lounge with Qi, as would The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain of cafes.
Following that announcement, the (competing) Alliance for Wireless Power remained bullish, predicting that two standards of wireless charging could continue to exist and pointing out the nascent nature of the market. The Alliance for Wireless Power is still six months off having a standard, which is why the Samsung Galaxy SIII still lacks the wireless charging capability it was announced with, but the Alliance reckons this is a long game worth playing in.
And one which will now be open to a new participant, as the entire eCoupled product is on the market along with its 240 patents worldwide with another 480 pending. The only caveat is that the buyer must honour obligations to existing licensees, including one to Amway for the eSpring water filter which kicked off the whole thing.
* Like a pyramid, only legal and with a flat top.