Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General (AAG) for the Antitrust Division Makan Delrahim spoke in Brussels about maintaining a close working relationship and coordination with European Union’s Directorate General for Competition (DG Competition) in competition law enforcement. AAG Delrahim’s remarks included suggestion that the European competition authorities shift toward the more balanced approach to standard essential patents (SEPs) that he recently articulated for the U.S. (See our Dec. 20, 2017 post on AAG Delrahim’s remarks on shift in U.S. DOJ’s SEP enforcement approach). Some key points in AAG Delrahim’s remarks include:
- “I believe that strong protection of these [IP] rights drives innovation incentives, which in turn drive a successful economy.”
- “I worry that we have strayed too far in the direction of accommodating the concerns of technology licensees who participate in standard setting bodies, very likely at the risk of undermining incentives for the creation of new and innovative technologies.”
- The tension between innovators and implementers “is best resolved through free market competition and bargaining. And that bargaining process works best when standard setting bodies respect intellectual property rights … including the very important right to exclude.”
- If a patent owner violates a standard-setting commitment, “remedies under contract law, rather than antitrust remedies, are more appropriate to address licensee’s concerns.”
Below is a a complete excerpt of AAG Delrahim’s remarks in Brussels with respect to intellectual property and SEPs:
In the intellectual property area, we each have licensing guidelines; DG Competition’s guidelines were revised in 2014; ours just last year. Both sets of guidelines highlight the benefits of robust IP protection, the importance of innovation incentives, and the risk that certain hardcore conduct poses to competition.
Intellectual property rights and innovation are topics I have cared about for a long time. Intellectual property rights are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and I believe that strong protection of these rights drives innovation incentives, which in turn drive a successful economy.
A deep-seated concern for protecting incentives to innovate underlies many of the changes in U.S. antitrust law over the past several decades, and it is no coincidence that we have enjoyed a period of staggering innovation over that time. But in an ever-evolving marketplace, success is not a static outcome. We must continue to think critically about how best to calibrate our enforcement decisions to promote competition and innovation.
As you may know from what I have said publicly, a particular concern of mine is how we use antitrust enforcement in the context of standard setting. In particular, I worry that we have strayed too far in the direction of accommodating the concerns of technology licensees who participate in standard setting bodies, very likely at the risk of undermining incentives for the creation of new and innovative technologies. We continue to better our understanding of this important field.
The dueling interests of innovators and implementers always are in tension, but the tension is best resolved through free market competition and bargaining. And that bargaining process works best when standard setting bodies respect the intellectual property rights of technology innovators, including the very important right to exclude. To the extent a patent holder violates its commitments to a standard setting organization, remedies under contract law, rather than antitrust remedies, are more appropriate to address licensees’ concerns.
I am aware that there may be some distance between my position and that of some of my European counterparts. If that is the case, however, we can look to our long history of effective and productive collaboration for guidance about how to proceed. I will make every effort to work with our counterparts at DG Competition to narrow any gap between Brussels and Washington in this area. We must maintain our close dialogue on the cutting-edge issues—innovation, intellectual property rights, and digital markets—that will occupy much of our time in the future. Innovators and consumers in both of our unions deserve nothing less.