Why Did Rosum Sell Out?

September 21, 2011

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Earlier this month TruePosition acquired the patent portfolio of Rosum, the company that created technology to use TV signals for location determination (press release). TruePosition was one of Rosum’s second round investors, so it is very familiar with its assets. Rosum’s website is no longer up, but its LinkedIn profile suggests it had fewer than 50 employees.

I’d been following the company for years and was patiently waiting for a big breakthrough. A partnership with Trimble (2003 press release) that would put both a traditional GPS chip and a Rosum chip in the same product seemed like a great idea, but nothing seemed to come of it. Other partnerships didn’t fair too well (press releases). And now, Rosum has basically sold out.

This spring when I covered location determination techniques in class, I had my students read an article on GigaOm about Rosum titled “We Need Another Location Technology Like We Need Another Social Network.” The argument was simply that Wi-Fi offers a “good enough” location solution and it uses a chip already in mobile devices. Todd Young, vice president of business development at Rosum, detailed Rosum’s “special sauce” in a comment citing two situations where Wi-Fi is not good enough. First off, during Katrina, Wi-Fi was down, but TV was up. Second, with Loran going away, there will be more demand for accurate location determination.

Just last year Tristian Lacroix, the vice president of business development for IndoorLBS.com, in an interview with Directions’ Editor in Chief Joe Francica, explained another challenge: chip size.

“Rosum was founded by the same people who architected GPS, knew that GPS did not work indoors and wanted to find an alternative, which is using TV towers. Over the past few years, Rosum has been working on producing a chip small enough to fit into devices. The chip is still too big for cell phones; however, Rosum is embedding its TV chip into laptops.”

GPS Business News
reports that because live TV on mobile devices has not exploded, Rosum did not get the “free ride” that Wi-Fi location determination has on cell phones and tablets. I suppose live TV could still break through, but the idea of “must see TV” reached its heyday some years ago.

My students became fond of one saying, which seemed to pop up regularly during the course: “It’s a solution in search of a problem.” The problem Rosum’s technology solves may simply be too small for the company vision. Perhaps TruePosition can turn that into profit alongside its already successful locating technologies. I, for one, will keep watching, just as I keep watching over-the-air TV!


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