Is there a duty to license Standard Essential Patents to competitors? FTC v Qualcomm Case 5:17-cv-00220-LHK C. Nor

This post will discuss a summary judgment by a district court in California – the one responsible for most cases in Silicon Valley – on whether Qualcomm’s refusal to license its Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) to competitors infringed the non-discrimination limb of RAND commitments and, by extension, s. 5 of the FTC Act. The decision is available here. Background Cellular communications depend on widely distributed networks that implement cellular communications standards. These standards promote availability and interoperability of standardized products regardless of geographic boundaries. Standard-setting organizations (“SSOs”) – such as the Telecommunications Industry Association (“TIA”) and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (“ATIS”) in the United States, and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (“ETSI”) in Europe – have emerged to develop and manage the relevant cellular standards. The cellular communications standards that SSOs develop and adopt may incorporate patented technology. In order to prevent the owner of a patent essential to complying with the standard—the “SEP holder”—from blocking implementation of…

When is a licence FRAND? The Court of Appeal judgment in Unwired Planet v Huawei

This judgment – which can be found here – is on appeal from Unwired Planet v Huawei judgment on the licensing of Standard Essential Patents (SEP) that I reviewed here. The Court of Appeal begins by explaining the link between the potential for anticompetitive abuse of SEPs and the imposition of FRAND licensing terms. After all: ‘the potential for anti-competitive behaviour is obvious. The owner of a SEP has the potential ability to “hold-up” users after the adoption and publication of the standard either by refusing to license the SEP or by extracting excessive royalty fees for its use, and in that way to prevent competitors from gaining effective access to the standard and the part of the telecommunications market to which it relates.’ It then moves on to review the factual background of the case and the High Court’s decision. In short, Unwired Planet acquired patents from Ericson that cover many of the foundational technologies that allow mobile devices…

Sophie Lawrance and Edwin Bond on ‘Reverse-payment’ patent settlement agreements: non-cash value transfers are not immune from competition law scrutiny’ (2018) Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice 13(7) 552

This article – which can be found here – argues that a non-cash value transfer – particularly commitments by the producer of a branded drug not to launch a generic version of its drug – is able to bring a pay-for-delay agreement within the scope of the antitrust prohibition of reverse-payment patent settlement agreements. It does so as follows: The paper first looks at the law in the US as regards non-cash value transfer settlements. In its landmark 2013 FTC v, Actavis decision, the US Supreme Court held that pharmaceutical patent settlements which involve ‘large’ and ‘unexplained’ reverse payments may breach the antitrust rules. However, and as a result of the Supreme Court’s lack of detailed guidance, the lower US courts have in the last few years found themselves considering a fairly basic question: what constitutes a ‘payment’? While a couple of US district courts concluded that patent settlements that do not involve a cash transfer could not constitute unlawful…

Ashish Bharadwaj ‘A note on the neglected issue of reverse patent holdup’. (2018) Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice 13(7) 555

The purpose of this article – which can be found here – is to provide a comparative analysis of EU, US and Indian case law on reverse patent holdup in the context of standard essential patent licensing. The piece is structured as follows: The paper begins with a discussion of patent holdup and reverse holdup in general terms. Technological standards have become ubiquitous. Such standards foster interoperability, avoid inefficient rivalry between competing systems and facilitate competition in downstream product markets. It has been held that firms that commit their patents to a standard – and thereby own standard essential patents (SEPs) for the purposes of that standard – often abuse their dominant position by demanding excessive royalties or by seeking injunctive relief against infringers of their essential patents. Owning a SEP provides its holder with a certain amount of market power, because users of the standard must reach a licensing agreement with the patent holder. Theoretically, a SEP holder can…

Jessica C. Lai and Vikas Kathuria on ‘Restrictive Conditions” in patent law and the competition law interface’ (2018) Journal of World Intellectual Property law 21 256

This paper – which can be found here – examines the IP-competition interface in New Zealand, and compares it with Australia, India and the UK. A first section provides an overview of the interaction of IP and competition law in New Zealand. Section 66(1) of the Patents Act 1953 makes void any contractual condition that could be said to amount to patent-tying or to a patentee attempting to control a purchaser, lessee, or licensee’s ability to trade with third parties (the ‘restrictive conditions’). This provision is substantively similar to historical provisions in the UK which sought to ‘prevent a patentee from abusing his monopoly by placing restrictions on the acquisition and use of products other than the patented products.’ Any prohibited contractual condition also acted as a defence to patent infringement. In its 1949 Patents Act, the UK introduced a provision that allowed a vendee, leasee or licensee to terminate a contract related to a patent or patented invention that was no…

Maria José Schmidt-Kessen ‘Selective Distribution Systems in EU Competition and EU Trademark Law: Resolving the Tension’ (2018) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 9(5) 304

The basic argument of this paper – which can be found here – is that the ECJ in Coty reversed its earlier judgment in Pierre Fabre as regards luxury products, in order to ensure that the treatment of selective distribution systems under EU trademark and competition law was aligned. A first section provides an overview of the treatment of online selling restrictions under European competition law. Some luxury brands fear that retailers might damage their valuable brands’ reputation by offering branded goods in an inadequate online environment, e.g. without adequate costumer service; and that allowing online sales by retailers could lead to an increase in trade of counterfeited goods over the internet. As such, they have imposed on their retailers considerable restrictions on the possibility of using the internet as a selling channel, often in the context of selective distribution systems. These restrictions have led to competition law cases being brought against manufacturers who impose them. These cases build on…

David Bailey ‘The New Frontiers of Article 102 TFEU: antitrust imperialism or judicious intervention?’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6(1) 25-53

This paper – which can be found here – addresses the way in which EU competition law cuts across and interferes with other legal regimes such as pharmaceutical regulations (Astra Zeneca and patent settlement cases), energy rules (Gazprom) and data protection (Facebook). This has led to a debate about whether EU competition law and policy should be able to trespass on turf that is properly subject to other areas of law, and whether it is appropriate for it to act as a “repair service” for other fields of economic law that lack sanctioning mechanisms. The article is structured as follows: The second section examines four situations in which Article 102 TFEU controversially overlapped with a different area of law. Competition law applies to unilateral business conduct whenever there is an act (or omission) of a dominant undertaking that distorts the competitive process or is directly exploitative of consumers. On the other hand, the application of competition law is usually precluded by…

Chris Fonteijn, Ilan Akker and Wolf Sauter  ‘Reconciling competition and IP law: the case of patented pharmaceuticals and dominance abuse’,  in Gabriella Muscolo and Mariaanna Tavassi (eds.) The Interplay between Competition Law and Intellectual Property – An international perspective (Kluwer Law International, Forthcoming)

The paper – a draft of which can be found here – discusses how competition law may be applied with regard to abuses of dominance involving patented pharmaceuticals. It argues that the pay for delay cases in both the US and the EU are only the first step in exploring the application of competition law to such products. The paper then examines abuses of the patent system with the aim to exclude competitors and, second, whether excessive prices can be sanctioned as regards IP-protected pharmaceutical products. The paper is structured as follows: Section II investigates the interaction between IP and competition law. This has been covered extensively in previous emails, so I will merely summarise the basic points. Inasmuch as IP law creates temporary monopolies, this would seem to create a tension with competition law, but this tension is merely apparent. Both competition and IP law ultimately seek to promote consumer welfare, and the protection granted by IP law does not amount…

Peter Menell  ‘Economic Analysis of Network Effects and Intellectual Property’ in Ben Depoorter & Peter S. Menell (eds.), Research Handbook on the Economics of Intellectual Property Law: Vol I. Theory (2018)

This piece – which can be found here – is a rather long , but very comprehensive book chapter that surveys and integrates the economic, business strategy and legal literatures on IP, competition and network effects. It is structured as follows: Part I introduces network effects. I have done this to death in the past, so I’m not going to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that the author looks mainly at demand side network effects, and what its implications are for IP and competition policy: ‘In a static economic model (i.e., one without innovation), consumers benefit from robust competition within product standards. Open access to product standards encourages realization of network externalities. Although bandwagon effects can enhance consumer welfare in a static context, they can also make it more difficult for developers of improved platforms to enter the market. Consumers and suppliers of complementary products can face significant switching costs in migrating from one platform to another.’ Like…

Ioannis Lianos & Pierre Regibeau “Vexatious”/”Sham” Litigation: When can it Arise and How can it be Reduced?’ (2017) Antitrust Bulletin 62(4) 643-689

It is possible that companies may, through regulatory and litigation processes, be able to exclude or marginalize their competitors from the market and therefore charge higher prices, limit output, maintain the status quo price, or diminish innovation. But while these strategies may offer a cheap mechanism for non-price predation, litigation and regulatory process have been set up to protect public goods regardless of the risk that their use may negatively impact competition. Furthermore: ‘assessing on a case-by-case basis the welfare effects of each use of the regulatory and litigation process through some form of sophisticated cost benefit analysis would be too burdensome and would generate too much uncertainty, chilling the legitimate use of such governmental processes and thus frustrating their aims. For this reason, in practice, the use of the regulatory and/or litigation process stays presumptively outside the scope of competition law, through the operation of some form of antitrust immunity, in both the U.S. and in Europe, this being…