International Trade Commission

Yesterday, Administrative Law Judge Essex issued a one-page notice of initial determination holding that Nokia’s 3G mobile handsets infringe the asserted claims of InterDigital’s U.S. Patent Nos. 7,190,966 and 7,286,847 (“the ‘847 Patent”) in the International Trade Commission’s investigation styled In the Matter of Certain 3G Mobile Handsets and Components Thereof (ITC Inv. No. 337-TA-613).  In the one page notice, the Judge expressly relied upon a standard adopted by 3GPP in concluding that Nokia’s handsets meet the limitations of the one ‘847 Patent claim asserted by InterDigital:

It is held that the 3GPP standard supports a finding that the pilot signal (P-CPICH) satisfies the claim limitation ‘synchronize to the pilot signal’ as recited in the asserted claim of the ‘847 patent by synchronizing to either the P-SCH or S-SCH signals under the Commission’s construction of that claim limitation.

Judge Essex also held “that there is no evidence of patent hold-up, that there is evidence of reverse hold-up, and that public interest does not preclude issuance of an exclusion order.”

No written memorandum opinion has been made available. To the extent that a more detailed opinion on the issues exists in redacted form, the parties will have a certain period of time, as directed by the court, to propose redactions to protect any confidential business information from the version of the opinion that will be made available to the public.

The Northern District of California recently granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of patent-plaintiff ChriMar Systems, Inc. on antitrust and state law unfair competition counterclaims filed by accused infringers Cisco and Hewlett-Packard (HP).  According to the court, the crux of Cisco’s and HP’s counterclaims alleged that ChriMar failed to disclose and commit to license one of its patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms during a standard-setting process and, subsequent to the standard being adopted, filed suit against them alleging infringement of the same patent.  Cisco and HP alleged that this was an abuse ChriMar’s “monopoly power” and also a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law.  The court held that judgment on the pleadings was warranted because Cisco and HP failed to define the relevant market and also failed to plead facts showing market power and antitrust injury.  The court, however, granted Cisco and HP leave to amend their counterclaims.

Background.  On October 31, 2011, ChriMar filed a complaint against Cisco and HP alleging that Cisco’s and HP’s “Power over Ethernet telephones, switches, wireless access points, routers and other devices used in wireless local area networks, and/or cameras and components thereof that are compliant with the” Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) 802.3af and/or 802.3at standards infringed one or more claims of ChriMar’s U.S. Patent No. 7,457,250 (“the ‘250 Patent”).  In response, Cisco and HP filed counterclaims asserting causes of action for, inter alia, monopolization under the federal antitrust laws as well as for violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law.

In their counterclaims, Cisco and HP allege that the IEEE has a “patent disclosure policy” that “requires participants in the standards setting process to disclose patents or patent applications they believe to be infringed by the practice of the proposed standard.”  Cisco and HP further allege that the IEEE policy requires those who disclose intellectual property rights to provide a written assurance stating whether they would enforce any of their present or future patents “whose use would be required to implement the proposed IEEE standard or provide” a license to such patents royalty-free or on RAND terms.  The counterclaims assert that ChriMar was required to but intentionally “failed to disclose to IEEE its belief that its ‘250 Patent was essential to the proposed 802.3af and/or the 802.3at” during amendments of the 802.3 standard and that “ChriMar was not willing to license the ‘250 Patent on RAND terms.”  Cisco and HP contend that due, in part, to this alleged failure to disclose, the industry adopted the present form of IEEE 802.3af and IEEE 802.3at amendments to the IEEE 802.3 standard and that they are now “locked-in to the current implementation . . . for Power over Ethernet-enabled products.”  Had ChriMar disclosed its belief that the ‘250 Patent would be infringed by practicing the proposed amendments to the 802.3 standard as well as its unwillingness to license the patent on royalty-free or RAND terms, the IEEE would have, according to Cisco and HP, done one or more of the following:

1.  Incorporated one or more viable alternative technologies into the IEEE 802.3af and IEEE 802.3at amendments to the IEEE 802.3 standard;

2.  Requested ChriMar to provide a letter of assurance that it would license the ‘250 Patent on RAND terms;

3.  Decided to either not adopt any amendment to the IEEE 802.3; and/or

4.  Adopted an amendment that did not incorporate technology that ChriMar claims is covered by the ‘250 Patent.

Cisco and HP further contend that ChriMar has taken the position that all Power over Ethernet-enabled products infringe the ‘250 Patent and that, to the extent that the ‘250 Patent is essential to the 802.3af and the 802.3at standards, no viable technology substitutes exist and ChriMar has monopoly power over the Power over Ethernet Technology Market.  Both Cisco and HP allege that this conduct combined with ChriMar’s infringement action against them is an unlawful abuse of monopoly power under Section 2 of the Federal Sherman Antitrust Act and also unfair competition under California’s Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. Code § 17200 (UCL).

HP also filed a claim for attempted monopolization under Section 2, which alleges that ChriMar’s complaint against it, Cisco and several others (Respondents) before the International Trade Commission seeking an exclusion order under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 constituted an unlawful intent to monopolize the Power over Ethernet Technology market.  According to HP, ChriMar alleged before the ITC  that Respondents infringe the ‘250 Patent by importing products that practice the Power over Ethernet Standards IEEE 802.3af and 802.3at.  HP alleges that the Respondents’ imports collectively “comprise the substantial majority of products commercially offered in the Power over Ethernet Technology Market.”  HP alleges further that ChriMar’s “baseless” allegations of infringement and request for an order prohibiting these Respondents from importing Power over Ethernet products constitutes an unlawful attempt to monopolize the Power over Ethernet Technology Market.

ChriMar’s Answers and Motion to Dismiss.  ChriMar filed an answer to Cisco’s counterclaims as well as an answer to HP’s counterclaims generally denying defendants’ antitrust and UCL allegations and asserting lack of standing and failure to state a claim as affirmative defenses.  ChriMar thereafter moved for judgment on the pleadings on the antitrust and UCL counterclaims.  In its motion, ChriMar argued that Cisco and HP failed to plead facts showing that ChriMar had monopoly power in the alleged relevant market.  Specifically, according to ChriMar, Defendants could not “simply rely on the existence of patent rights or actions to enforce them, as they have done.”  “As a matter of law, ‘patent rights are not legal monopolies in the antitrust sense of that word’ … and simply owning or enforcing the patent right does not make one a ‘prohibited monopolist.'”  ChriMar elaborated:

While the patent may give its owner a right to exclude, that is in no way synonymous with having monopoly power. … Such is presumably the case in a market related to a standards setting context where the standard does not practice the patented technology as Defendants allege in this action, where there are market alternatives to the standard itself such as Cisco’s own proprietary inline power technology, where other parties have rights to exclude in the same technology market (in the form of other patents that read on the standards) and can effectively limit the ability of other parties to exert monopoly power (i.e., control prices), or where competing technologies like wireless communication or conventional unpowered Ethernet can exert economic influences that can keep Power over Ethernet prices or the exercise of monopoly power in check — all issues Defendants’ pleadings never address.

ChriMar further argued that its enforcement of its patent rights was presumed to be valid under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which generally grants immunity from antitrust liability for petitioning the government in the form of litigation.  To overcome this presumption, Cisco and HP had to plead facts showing that its litigation against them and ITC proceeding seeking an exclusion order were a “sham,” that is, “objectively baseless.”  To be objectively baseless, Cisco and HP must plead facts showing that ChriMar’s claims were “‘so baseless that no reasonable litigant could realistically expect to secure favorable relief.'”  If Cisco and HP could show that ChriMar’s claims were objectively baseless, they next had to allege facts showing that the litigation was subjectively brought in bad faith in order to overcome Noerr-Pennington immunity.

ChriMar argued that the only factual allegation in HP’s counterclaim is that “‘discovery in the ITC investigation established that ChriMar’s allegations for domestic industry were baseless'” and that “ChriMar withdrew its [ITC] complaint nine months after it was filed, and after HP filed a motion for summary determination on the issue of domestic market.”  These allegations, according to ChriMar, failed to overcome ChriMar’s Noerr-Pennington immunity.

ChriMar also argued that Defendants failed to plead facts adequately defining a relevant market, a necessary element for a Section 2 claim.  Defendants alleged the following relevant market in their counterclaims:

ChriMar actually, potentially, and/or purportedly competes in the United States and worldwide markets for developing and licensing technology essential to implement the IEEE 802.3af and 802.3at amendments to the IEEE 802.3 standard and for technology essential to perform certain functions, allegedly covered by the ‘250 Patent, necessary to implement the IEEE 802.3 standard (hereinafter ‘Power over Ethernet Technology Market’).

ChriMar asserted that this definition is flawed because it fails to identify what particular technologies are included within the market.  Further, ChriMar argued that Defendants “have pled a market whose outer boundaries are defined by ChriMar’s infringement claims (one patent asserted against two standards) rather than any exploration of the ‘reasonable interchangeability’ of use or the cross-elasticity of demand’ outside this intersection.”  Cisco and HP’s counterclaims did not consider that the “technologies and products at issue in this litigation may be interchangeable with other technologies and products such as Power over-Ethernet technologies and products that are not compliant with the two standards . . . or even technologies and products not compliant with any standard, but that themselves are alternatives to the Power over Ethernet technologies and products compliant with these two standards.”  Under the Sherman Act, according to ChriMar, the relevant market cannot be defined by ChriMar’s economic power within the two standards.  Rather, the relevant market must be defined and measured by cross-elasticity of demand or product interchangeability:  “Here, Defendants plead economic power with respect to those entities voluntarily choosing to continue making products compliant with these two particular standards . . . and not the market demand for these particular Power over Ethernet technologies themselves.”

ChriMar further argued that Cisco and HP failed to plead facts showing that ChriMar had monopoly power or that Defendants have suffered antitrust injury.  Further, ChriMar asserted that HP’s attempted monopolization claim was deficient because it failed to plead facts showing that ChriMar’s ITC action “was motivated by an intent to monopolize, rather than primarily motivated by legitimate business purposes.”  Finally, ChriMar argued that Cisco and HP’s UCL claims should be dismissed because they relied on the same conduct that formed the basis of their Section 2 claims.

Cisco and HP’s Opposition.  Cisco filed an opposition to ChriMar’s motion, as did HP.  Responding to ChriMar’s arguments that Defendants failed to adequately plead a relevant market, both Cisco and HP argued that “[m]arket definition is rarely grounds for dismissal of a pleading because ‘the validity of the relevant market is typically a factual element rather than a legal element” that is not appropriate to resolve on a Rule 12 motion.  

On the merits, Defendants argued that numerous cases have consistently held “that the relevant market is defined by those technologies that — before the standard was adopted — were competing to perform the function that was covered by the purportedly essential patent.”  According to Cisco and HP, “ChriMar does not cite to a single case that considered the relevant market where antitrust violations occurred in connection with misconduct in the context of standards development.”  In contrast, Defendants argued that Apple v. Samsung, Broadcom v. Qualcomm and Apple v. Motorola confirm that their market definition was adequately pled.  In Samsung, Apple pled the relevant market as “the various markets for technologies that — before the standard was implemented — were competing to perform each of the various functions covered by each of Samsung’s purported essential patents for UMTS.”  “Apple also identified the patents Samsung declared as standard essential and alleged that ‘pre-standardization there existed alternative substitutes for the technologies covered by Samsung’s patents,’ and that after standardization, ‘viable alternative technologies were excluded.'”  Defendants asserted that the Samsung court found such allegations to “define the bounds of the relevant market” and that “Apple ha[d] sufficiently pled a relevant antitrust market” because “the incorporation of a patent into a standard . . . makes the scope of the relevant market congruent with that of the patent.”

According to Defendants, the Broadcom court reached a similar conclusion, holding that Broadcom, the alleged infringer, had adequately pled a relevant market to support a monopolization claim that was defined as “the market for Qualcomm’s proprietary WCDMA technology, a technology essential to the implementation of the UMTS standard.”  Apple v. Motorola reached a similar conclusion, finding that a relevant market was sufficiently pled as “the various technologies competing to perform the functions covered by Motorola’s declared-essential patents for each of the relevant standards.”

Cisco and HP argued that, “[c]onsistent with these cases, [Defendants] defined the market to comprise the technologies that competed to perform the functions in the [Power over Ethernet] Standards allegedly covered by the ‘250 patent.”  This definition, according to Defendants, “appropriately focuses on alternative technologies that were excluded from the market by ChriMar’s deceptive conduct and which [Defendants] and other implementers of the standard cannot now choose because the industry is ‘locked-in’ to the standard.”  “To the extent ChriMar argues the correct market definition should include the entire standard, rather than some portion of the standard, that argument is inconsistent with both the complaint and with”  Samsung, Broadcom, and Apple.

With respect to monopoly power, both Cisco and HP argued that in the standards context, “it is well settled that patentees holding standard-essential patents can possess monopoly power.”  Cisco and HP again relied upon Samsung, wherein the court concluded that “because standard-essential patents may confer antitrust market power on the patent owner, Apple’s claims” that “Samsung had market power over the relevant market because it obtained the power to raise prices and exclude competition over the technologies covered by Samsung’s standard-essential patents” and that “there was a ‘lock-in’ to the standard” were sufficient to plead monopoly power.  Cisco and HP argued that their counterclaims satisfied this standard because they alleged that, as a result of ChriMar’s accusations that “the leading vendors of Power over Ethernet-enabled products” infringe the ‘250 Patent, “it is ChriMar’s position that no meaningful level of Power over Ethernet-enabled products do not infringe the ‘250 Patent.”  Further, like the allegations in Samsung, Cisco and HP both allege that “because of ‘lock-in’ to the standard,” there are no “viable technology substitutes at present.”  “Accordingly, if the ‘250 Patent claims covered products that comply with the IEEE standard as claimed by ChriMar, ChriMar has monopoly power over the Power over Ethernet Technology Market.”

The element of antitrust injury was also adequately pled, according to Cisco and HP.  Defendants argued that in order to plead that they have suffered antitrust injury, they must allege facts showing an injury to competition.  “It is well settled that misconduct before an SSO harms competition by ‘obscuring the costs of including proprietary technology in a standard and increasing the likelihood that patent rights will confer monopoly power on the patent holder.'”  Cisco and HP pointed to allegations in their counterclaims “concerning the harm to competition caused by ChriMar’s deception in the context of standards setting,” including that ChriMar “‘could charge supra-competitive prices”‘” and that “‘[c]ustomers and consumers will be harmed, either by not getting products that are compliant with the IEEE 802.af and IEEE 802.at amendment to the IEEE 802.3 standard or having to pay an exorbitant price for one.”

Cisco also took issue with ChriMar’s argument that “the anticompetitive harm alleged by Cisco ‘is a potential consequence in any successful patent litigation.'”  According to Cisco, “[t]his is not just ‘ any patent litigation,’ and the competitive harm alleged by Cisco is not the natural result of any litigation.”  “[H]ere, ChriMar deliberately subverted the goals of the IEEE standards-setting process by not disclosing its patent rights, waiting until the industry became ‘locked-in’ to the [Power over Ethernet] Standards, and demanding royalties from implementers of the standards that Cisco has alleged will lead to ‘supra-competitive prices.'”

With respect to ChriMar’s Noerr-Pennington argument, Cisco argued that “[c]ourts have repeatedly recognized that the Noerr-Pennington doctrine does not apply to monopoly power gained through deception in the context of SSOs, even when an allegedly standard-essential patent is subsequently asserted in court.”  As the doctrine does not apply, Cisco and HP need not plead facts supporting the two exceptions.

HP argued similarly, but also asserted that its counterclaim alleged facts supporting the “sham” exception to Noerr-Pennington, that is is, that ChriMar filed a sham ITC proceeding against HP and others only to later voluntarily withdraw it.

HP also asserted that its counterclaims adequately pled that ChriMar had a specific intent to monopolize and a dangerous probability of obtaining a monopoly.  “HP alleges facts that ChriMar deceitfully concealed its patent in connection with the IEEE standards-setting process and then sought to enforce its patent in the ITC.  This conduct shows a specific intent by ChriMar to monopolize the [Power over Ethernet] Technology Market through its anticompetitive conduct.”  “ChriMar became dangerously close to succeeding in its attempt, having dismissed its complaint less than two months before the start of the ITC hearing.”

Finally, Cisco and HP argued that, because they adequately pled causes of action under the federal antitrust laws, they also adequately pled a cause of action under California’s UCL.

The Court’s Decision on Cisco and HP’s Monopolization Counterclaims.  After ChriMar filed its reply, the court entered an order granting ChriMar’s motion.  With respect to Cisco and HP’s monopolization claims, the court agreed with ChriMar that their pleadings failed to allege facts sufficient to define the relevant market, a necessary element to a Section 2 claim.  “Courts typically require that the proposed relevant market be defined with reference to the rule of reasonable interchangeability and cross-elasticity of demand.”  “However, in the context of a standard setting organization (‘SSO’) locking in a standard which eliminates substitute or alternative technologies courts have allowed a relevant market to be defined by the technologies that were competing before the standard was adopted to perform the function that is covered by the standard and the essential patent.”  “For example, in [Apple v. Samsung], the court found sufficient Apple’s allegations that defined the relevant market as the ‘various markets for technologies that — before the standard was implemented — were competing to perform each of the various functions covered by each of Samsung’s purported essential patents for’ the standard.”  The court in Samsung further “noted that Apple alleged that pre-standardization there were alternative substitutes for the technologies covered by Samsung’s patents, and that after the SSO adopted the proposed standard, viable alternative technologies were excluded.”  Cisco and HP’s claims failed to plead such facts or facts defining the market “as comprising the technologies that competed to perform the functions in the Power over Ethernet standards allegedly covered by the ‘250 Patent.”  Therefore, Cisco and HP failed to sufficiently allege the relevant market.

The court also held that Cisco and HP failed to allege sufficient facts showing that ChriMar had the requisite market power to support a Section 2 claim.  On this element, Cisco and HP argued that “their allegations regarding ChriMar’s failure to disclose its belief that the ‘250 Patent was essential to the 802.3af and 802.3at amendments to the IEEE 802.3 to the standard setting organization (‘SSO’) is sufficient to allege their monopoly claims.”  Citing to an earlier decision in Apple v. Samsung, Defendants contended that “it is sufficient to allege that if the ‘250 Patent is essential, then ChriMar has monopoly power.”  The court, however, concluded that the decision did not support defendants’ contention.  Specifically, “in that case, the court determined that Apple had sufficiently alleged monopoly power.”  “The court in Samsung further noted that, in contrast to the theory that a patent holder misrepresented to an SSO that it would license its intellectual property on RAND terms, ‘[c]ourts have been more reluctant to find an antitrust violation based on the theory that a failure to disclose intellectual property rights in a declared essential patent created monopoly power for a member of the SSO.'”  Indeed, the Samsung court expressly required the plaintiff to allege that “there was an alternative technology that the SSO was considering during the standard setting process and that the SSO would have adopted an alternative standard had it known of the patent holder’s intellectual property rights.”  The Samsung court further made it “clear that the heightened pleading requirements under Rule 9(b) for fraud applies to” the types of antitrust claims brought by Cisco and HP.  Applying these standards to those claims, the court concluded that “they fail to allege non-conclusory facts which, if true, would be enough to show that ChriMar acquired sufficient monopoly power.”  “Notably, Defendants fail to clearly allege that the IEEE would have adopted an alternative standard had it known about the ‘250 Patent and ChriMar’s position with respect to its ‘250 Patent.”  Therefore, Cisco and HP failed to plead the necessary element of market power.

Finally, with respect to the necessary element of antitrust injury, the court concluded that Cisco and HP’s claims merely alleged, “in conclusory fashion, that ChriMar’s alleged conduct has ’caused and will directly and proximately cause antitrust liability to [Defendants] within the Power over Ethernet Technology Market . . .”  Neither defendant pled any facts which, if true, “would demonstrate antitrust injury.”

Because Cisco and HP failed to allege the necessary elements of a relevant market, monopoly power, and antitrust injury, the court found “that Defendants have not alleged sufficient facts to state a counterclaim for monopolization.”  However, the court provided Defendants with leave to amend their monopolization claims in an attempt to remedy the deficiencies identified by the court.

Notably, the court did not address — at least not at this time — ChriMar’s Noerr-Pennington arguments but may very well do so on any subsequent motion to dismiss the amended counterclaims permitted by the court’s decision.

The Court’s Decision on HP’s Attempted Monopolization Counterclaim.  Because HP failed to plead a relevant market as well as antitrust injury, HP’s attempted monopolization claim failed as well.  “In addition, although a lower percentage [of market share] is required for an attempted monopoly claim, as opposed to an actual monopoly claim, HP must still allege sufficient market power.”  The court concluded that HP failed to allege sufficient market power which was also “fatal to its attempted monopolization claim.”

The court disagreed with ChriMar’s argument that “HP’s attempted monopolization counterclaim fails for the additional reason that HP fails to allege specific intent to monopolize or a dangerous probability of obtaining monopoly power because HP’s attempted monopolization allegations are based solely around the terminated [ITC] investigation.”  The court concluded that “HP does not rely solely upon the ITC investigation” but “is also premised upon ChriMar’s alleged misconduct before the SSO.”  However, because the court was granting HP leave to amend its counterclaim to adequately allege a relevant market, market power and antitrust injury, the court did not reach the issue of whether HP’s additional allegations regarding the ITC investigation would be sufficient, standing alone, to state a claim for attempted monopolization “if HP sufficiently alleges the relevant market power, and an antitrust injury.”  HP’s attempted monopolization claim was therefore dismissed with leave to amend.

The Court’s Decision on Cisco and HP’s UCL Counterclaims.  The court also dismissed Cisco and HP’s UCL counterclaims.  “Courts have held that where the alleged conduct does not violate the antitrust laws, a claim based on unfair conduct under the UCL cannot survive.”  “Because the Court finds that Defendants have not alleged facts sufficient to state a a counterclaim for monopolization and attempted monopolization, Defendants’ UCL counterclaims” fail as well.  However, as with the other counterclaims, the court granted HP and Cisco leave to amend this claim as well.

We will continue to track the pleading and other developments in this case.

If you are attending the AIPLA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC this week, please join us at an educational CLE provided by the Standards & Open Source Committee on “Practical Considerations in Litigating Standard Essential Patents” on Thursday, Oct. 23 at 3:30 pm.  Our own David Long will be moderating the one-hour panel discussion with Judge Holderman of the U.S. District Court for N.D. Ill. and Judge Essex of the U.S. International Trade Commission.

You may recall that Judge Holderman presides over the Innovatio litigation where he wrote the second decision on how to calculate a FRAND royalty (see our Oct. 3, 2013 post) and he currently presides over a case contemplating the enforceability of a patent following a jury finding that the patent owner breached its RAND commitment (see our July 24, 2014 post).  Similarly, Judge Essex has presided over SEP cases in the ITC, including a recent decision that found a prospective licensee’s patent hold-out actions barred reliance on a FRAND defense (see our July 2, 2014 post).

During our one hour program, we will touch on several practical issues that arise in litigating standard essential patents in district court or the ITC,  including issues that arise from (1) determining a reasonable and non-discriminatory royalty (F/RAND), (2) when to determine such a royalty (e.g., reverse-bifurcation in district court and which phase in ITC), (3) the specificity required to plead F/RAND defense, (4) establishing whether patent “hold-up” or “hold-out” has occurred, (5) availability of damages and equitable relief, (6) who decides RAND or breach of RAND obligation (judge or jury), or (7) whether and when to determine if a patent is essential to a standard or infringed.

You will find more information about AIPLA’s Annual Meeting at their website.  Note that the preliminary brochure erroneously says 120 minutes of CLE are requested for this program; this will be a 60 minute program followed by a meeting of our Standards & Open Source Committee.  We encourage you to stay for that meeting, where you can discuss standard essential patents with the enthusiasm that strangers on the subway morning commute just don’t seem to appreciate.

The International Trade Commission issued the public version of its opinion in Inv. No. 337-868, finding no violation by either Nokia or ZTE and terminating the investigation in its entirety. On review, the Commission neither affirmed nor rejected ALJ Essex’s FRAND analysis, which criticized respondents who had not actively sought a license from InterDigitial yet raised SSO-related affirmative defenses.

As you may recall from our July 2, 2014 post, ALJ Essex issued a Final Initial Determination following a February 2014 evidentiary hearing, finding the accused products did not infringe InterDigital’s asserted patents, the domestic industry requirement had not been met, only one claim (claim 16 of U.S. Patent No. 7,941,151) was invalid as indefinite, and that respondents did not demonstrate InterDigital had violated any FRAND obligation. The Final Initial Determination also included a lengthy FRAND analysis, which was highly critical of respondents that assert FRAND defenses without having first availed themselves of SSO procedures for resolving situations where licenses are not available.

Respondents petitioned the ITC to review, inter alia, ALJ Essex’s FRAND analysis. Respondents argued that under a proper FRAND analysis, the asserted patents should have been found unenforceable under the doctrines of equitable estoppel, unclean hands, and patent misuse. As previewed in the ITC’s August 14 notice, the Commission took no position on the FRAND issues raised by the respondents, finding it more efficient to decide those issues, if at all, following an appeal of a related decision:

Decision as to those issues would require further proceedings, and potentially additional factfinding. The Commission has decided that, on balance, the added delay, burdens, and expenses that would be incurred by the parties and the Commission in resolving these issues are unjustified here given their non-dispositive nature, especially in view of the existence of other pending proceedings regarding the asserted patents and patents closely related to them.  In addition, the Commission finds that it is in the interest of the efficient use of administrative, judicial, and private resources for the domestic industry and FRAND issues to be decided, if at  all, subsequent to final disposition of the pending appeal in InterDigital Communications LLC v. ITC, No. 2014-1176 (Fed. Cir.), which involves many of the same parties and issues with regard to related patents.

Yesterday, the ITC filed a confidential version its opinion in the InterDigital investigation, Inv. No. 337-TA-868, involving Nokia and ZTE. According to a notice issued in the case last week, the Commission has reviewed ALJ Essex’s Final Initial Determination and terminated the investigation with a finding of no violation by either Nokia or ZTE. As discussed in our August 15, 2014 post, the notice indicates that the Commission has taken no position with respect to the FRAND issues raised, instead finding efficiency favors addressing any FRAND issues after final disposition of InterDigital’s co-pending Federal Circuit appeal, which involves several of the patents-at-issue in the 868 investigation. 

We expect a public version of the Commission’s opinion will be available in the coming weeks.

The ITC has issued a notice in the InterDigital investigation (No. 337-TA-868), indicating that the Commission has reviewed ALJ Essex’s Final Initial Determination reversed certain findings, taken no position on others, and ultimately terminated the investigation with a finding of no violation. ALJ Essex issued his initial ruling on June 13, 2014, finding that neither ZTE nor Nokia infringed InterDigital’s patents, which were alleged to be essential to 3G/4G standards, and that InterDigital had committed no FRAND violation (see our June 19 and July 2 posts for additional background).

According to the notice, the Commission has taken no position with respect to FRAND issues raised by respondents’ affirmative defenses:

The Commission finds that it is in the interest of the efficient use of administrative, judicial, and private resources for the domestic industry and FRAND issues to be decided, if at all, subsequent to final disposition of the pending appeal in InterDigital Communications LLC v. ITC, No. 2014-1176 (Fed. Cir.), which involves many of the same parties and issues with regard to related patents.

In the pending appeal, InterDigital is challenging the ALJ’s claim construction ruling in ITC Inv. No. 337-TA-800 (see our February 24, 2014 post for more information), which involves the two Power Ramp-up Patents (Nos. 7,706,830 and 8,009,636) also at issue in the 868 investigation. On appeal, InterDigital is arguing the ITC’s finding of no violation is based on erroneous claim constructions and should be reversed.

With respect to the present investigation (337-TA-868), you may recall from our July 2, 2014 post that ALJ Essex’s Final Initial Determination included a lengthy FRAND analysis, which was highly critical of respondents that assert FRAND defenses without having first availed themselves of SSO procedures for resolving situations where licenses are not available. After a solicitation for comments on the public interest, the ITC received a number of letters from Ericsson, the Innovation Alliance, Microsoft, Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), and Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), generally directed to ALJ Essex’s FRAND analysis and whether SEP owners should be entitled to exclusion orders on FRAND-encumbered patents (see our July 9, 2014 post for a summary of the third party comments).

The notice further indicates that “[t]he reasoning in support of the Commission’s decision will be set forth in fuller detail in a forthcoming opinion.”

InterDigital has submitted its own public interest statement  in its ITC case against Nokia and ZTE, Inv. No. 337-TA-868, regarding ALJ Essex’s FRAND analysis. As discussed in our July 9, 2014 post, Ericsson, the Innovation Alliance, Sen. Casey, and Microsoft have submitted their own statements addressing the public interest considerations affected by ALJ Essex’s Initial Determination, which rejected arguments that exclusion orders should not be available for standard-essential patents and addressed the obligations owed to a patent holder by potential licensees. Three of the responses — those submitted by Ericsson, the Innovation Alliance, and Sen. Casey — supported ALJ Essex’s analysis, while Microsoft asserted that SEP owners should not be entitled to exclusion orders on FRAND-encumbered patents.

Arguing that an exclusion order is an appropriate remedy in this case, InterDigital’s submission classifies the pending action as “one of the first investigations building a full record on the public interest in the context of potentially standard-essential patents (SEPs),” which “presents an ideal opportunity for the Commission to demonstrate the need for strong protection against reverse patent hold-up.” InterDigital notes that each of the Federal Circuit, DOJ, USPTO, FTC, ITC, and USTR have issued statements or decisions indicating that exclusion orders are not precluded solely on the basis that the asserted patent is standard-essential, further emphasizing the potential harm that can be caused by a “reverse hold-up” or “hold-out” by which a potential licensee avoids entering into a licensing agreement with a SEP-owner subject to FRAND obligations.

InterDigital argues that the record supports its position, pointing out that the ALJ found InterDigital engaged Respondents in good-faith licensing negotiations and that the Respondents engaged in reverse hold-up: “These Respondents chose to take the actions that led to the allegation of infringement rather than follow the ETSI policy for obtaining a license.”

InterDigital’s submission asserts that the ITC’s duty to enforce intellectual property rights serves to promote innovation and economic progress “through providing adequate and effective protection and enforcement” and argues the statutory public interest factors against which an exclusion order should be weighed do not overcome the importance of protecting InterDigital’s patent rights. Specifically, InterDigital argues that an exclusion order in this action (1) would not advesrsely affect competitive conditions because Respondents’ reverse hold-up should not be rewarded; (2) would not adversely affect consumers because reasonable substitutes for the devices-at-issue exist; (3) would not affect public health and welfare; and (4) would not adversely affect the production of competitive articles in the U.S., as the devices-at-issue are not produced in the United States.

 

Four parties have responded to the ITC’s request for statements on the public interest regarding ALJ Essex’s Initial Determination in Inv. No. 337-TA-868 (see our July 2, 2014 post), all addressing the ALJ’s FRAND analysis rejecting arguments against exclusion orders for standard-essential patents and addressing the obligations held by potential licensees. Three of the responses, submitted by Ericsson, the Innovation Alliance, and Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), support ALJ Essex’s analysis, whereas Microsoft takes the position that SEP owners should not be entitled to exclusion orders on FRAND-encumbered patents.

Statement’s Supporting ALJ Essex’s FRAND-Defense Analysis

Ericsson’s StatementEricsson agrees with ALJ Essex’s analysis, specifically supporting three findings: (1) FRAND licensing obligations apply to both innovators and implementers; (2) exclusion orders are available where SEP owner has engaged in good faith negotiations, offered a license on FRAND terms, and poses no threat of hold-up; and (3) courts and other decision making bodies should consider whether an implementer failed to negotiate toward a FRAND license, posing a hold-out threat to the patent owner.  Ericsson participants in several SSOs and is both a licensor and licensee of many SEPs.  Ericsson has made significant investments in employees, R&D, and intellectual property related to standards-compliant technology.  The FRAND regime “ensures that those implementing a standard are able to secure access at a fair cost, while those providing innovative technology for the standard are able to secure a fair return on their investments.”  Ericsson agrees with the ALJ’s “proportionate focus on the obligations of the implementer to earnestly seek an amicable royalty rate” during the course of a good faith negotiation. Ericsson then supports the proposition that exclusion orders should be available when the SEP holder has negotiated in good faith and further states that “exclusion orders should also be considered when the implementer has not negotiated in good faith (i.e., there is hold-out).”

Innovation Alliance’s Statement.  Focusing on the pro-consumer and pro-economic benefits derived from patent protection and SSO participation, the Innovation Alliance’s response “commends the ALJ for developing a comprehensive record with respect to the FRAND issues in this investigation and for making explicit findings related to the presence or absence of patent hold-up or reverse hold-up with respect to patents that are subject to a FRAND licensing requirement.” The IA specifically notes that, without exclusionary relief, implementers are “incentivized to engage in ‘reverse hold up'” in which a patent holder is unable to recover its own R&D costs. The IA further commended the ALJ’s acknowledgement of the patent hold-out problem by which those benefiting from patented technology can choose to infringe a SEP and later demand a FRAND rate; the public interest favors exclusion orders to protect and enforce valid and infringed SEPs.

Senator Casey’s Statement.  Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey also submitted a statement concerning the public interest, “writing to express [his] views on the importance of innovation to our national economy, particularly with respect to small businesses, such as InterDigital, who are significant contributors to U.S. private sector employment.” Noting InterDigital’s investment in research facilities and employees, Sen. Casey’s letter notes that the patent’s principal purpose is to encourage and protect innovation, noting that intellectual property-intensive industries supported at least 40 million U.S. jobs in 2010 and represented 34.8% of total GDP. Writing “[t]he Commission must be mindful of the significant benefits to consumers from standards-setting activities and of the need to continue incentivizing voluntary participation in standard-setting organizations,” Sen. Casey argues that holders of FRAND-committed patents should not be precluded from obtaining exclusionary relief.

Statements Criticizing ALJ Essex’s FRAND Analysis

Microsoft’s Statement.  Unlike the other statements submitted to the ITC, Microsoft’s letter warns against “the severe, long-term, and avoidable harms” caused by exclusion orders for FRAND-encumbered patents. Referring to its earlier July 7, 2012 comments on the public interest, Microsoft argues that exclusion orders should not be granted on FRAND-encumbered patents, relying upon Judge Posner’s recent denial of injunctive relief to Motorola on a FRAND-committed patent (see our April 25, 2014 post for an analysis of that decision). Microsoft argues that the public interest balance is shifted from the side of the patent owner upon assertion of an SEP and that InterDigital should not be permitted to use a threat of injunctive relief to increase royalty rates:

By assuming its FRAND obligations, InterDigital freely gave up exclusionary remedies in favor of a reasonable royalty in to have its technology incorporated into technical standards. InterDigital put its patents on the store shelf for a FRAND price, and they are available to anyone anywhere in the world willing to pay a true FRAND value. Having done so, InterDigital has no “recourse to the equity power of the Commission.”

Microsoft further argues that litigating FRAND-encumbered patents before the ITC harms the public interest, in this case by providing InterDigital with hold-up leverage and threat of an exclusion order that could adversely affect the U.S. phone operating system market. Microsoft argues that even if the ITC issues an exclusion order in the InterDigital case,  enforcement should be delayed for one year to mitigate the harm to the public interest and provide an opportunity “to appeal the ITC decision, to determine a FRAND rate…, or to explore design-around possibilities before the harsh impact of a potential exclusion order.”

UPDATE (July 28, 2014): 

Senator Pat Toomey’s Statement. Pennsylvania Senator Patrick J. Toomey also submitted a statement on the public interest on July 9, 2014, though a copy of the letter was not available until last week. Sen. Toomey’s letter expresses “strong support” for the protections afforded by Section 337 investigations and urges the Commission “to strongly consider InterDigital’s petition for relief from foreign imports that violate their intellectual property.” The letter notes that InterDigital employs “high skilled workers in Pennsylvania who are on the cutting edge of mobile innovation” and that its business model depends on licensing revenues from equipment manufacturers. Absent “adequate remedies for imported goods that use their patents without paying for them,” the letter argues companies like InterDigital will be deterred from “taking bets on future research and development” to the detriment of “American innovation and job creation.”

The U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) recently issued the public version of ALJ Essex’s Initial Determination in Inv. No. 337-TA-868 finding that InterDigital had not violated any FRAND obligation and that ZTE and Nokia had not infringed the patents-in-suit (see our June 19, 2014 post). Although the patents were found not to be essential to the 3G or 4G LTE standards, ALJ Essex’s Initial Determination provides an analysis of the FRAND issues at play — one that is highly critical of respondents that assert FRAND defenses without having first availed themselves of SSO procedures for resolving situations where licenses are not available (the FRAND analysis starts at page 108 of the decision).

FRAND Ruling

ALJ Essex initially indicates that, because he found that Respondents devices that practice the 3G and 4G LTE standards did not infringe the patents-in-suit, the patents are not essential to those standards and no FRAND obligations were triggered.  ALJ Essex nonetheless presents a full FRAND-defense analysis in the event that, on review, the Commission finds the patents infringed and essential to the wireless standards.

ETSI IPR Policy.  ALJ Essex summarized the Respondents’ FRAND position that is based on InterDigital’s participation in the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI)–specifically the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) subcommittees–giving rise to certain obligations under ETSI’s Intellectual Property Rights (“IPR”) Information Statement and Licensing Declaration under ETSI’s Rules of Procedure from Nov. 30, 2011.  ALJ Essex notes that these ETSI Rules of Procedure are not themselves a contract under the applicable French law, but rather an agreement in principal, guiding parties in their interactions with ETSI, other members, and third parties.  He states that IPR policy’s “first goal … is that the IPR owner be ‘adequately and fairly rewarded for the use of their IPRs in the implementation” of the ETSI standards.  Further, patent owner agrees to license its IPR on FRAND terms only under certain conditions–e.g., the patent owner is “adequately and fairly rewarded” (though unclear how to assess that) and the patent owner has the option of requiring a licensee to reciprocate with a FRAND license on its patents covering the standard.

Duty To Declare Potentially Essential Patents.  Under the  ETSI Rules of Procedure, a patent owner must declare patents that might become essential, but need not declare or confirm that the patents actually are essential to the standard.  Specifically referencing ALJ Shaw’s finding in Inv. No. 337-TA-800, ALJ Essex notes that not all declared patents actually are essential to the standard, no ETSI or other group confirms essentiality and declared patents frequently are found not to be essential when challenged.

ETSI Provides Procedure If FRAND Not Offered.  ALJ Essex also considered ETSI Rules of Procedure that provide a procedure for dealing with participants that refuse to grant licenses on FRAND terms after a standard is published.  Those procedures (ETSI Rules of Procedure Section 8.2 Nov. 30, 2011) include alerting ETSI’s Director-General who gathers info from complainant and patent owner, ETSI seeking to change the standard to avoid the IPR, and referral to the European Commission.  But no respondent in this case made use of those procedures.  If respondents believed InterDigital violated ETSI’s policy, they could have approached ETSI to determine whether there was such a breach and “[i]t would be helpful to this ALJ, and the ITC, if we knew InterDigital had breached its duty to ETSI.”  Nothing in ETSI Rules of Procedure appears to preclude a party, like the patent owner here that instigated the investigation, from using legal means to pressure other parties into negotiations.  Further, although ETSI does not define FRAND terms, ALJ Essex recites “a FRAND rate is a range of possible values, depending on a number of economic factors.”

Patent Hold-Out To Pressure Lower Royalty.  ALJ Essex then faulted respondents’ decision not to follow the ETSI procedures, but instead participate in what may be considered “patent hold-out” behavior “which is as unsettling to a fair solution as any patent hold up might be,” explaining:

These Respondents chose take the actions that led to the allegation of infringement rather than follow ETSI policy for obtaining a license. … The Respondents create, outside of the framework of the ETSI agreement a situation where they use the technology that may be covered by the patent, without having licensed it.  This puts pressure on the IPR owner to settle, as the owner is not compensated during a period of exploitation of the IP by the unlicensed parties.  The ETSI IPR policy requires companies that wish to use the IPR covered by the agreements to contact the owner of the IP, and take a license.  By skipping this step, the companies that use the IPR in violation of the policy are able to exert a pressure on the negotiations with the IPR holder to try to make the agreement in the lower range of FRAND, or perhaps even lower than a reasonable FRAND rate.  They also are able to shift the risk involve din patent negotiation to the patent holder.  By not paying for a FRAND license and negotiating in advance of the use of the IPR, they force the patent holder to take legal action.  In this action, the patent owner can lose the IPR they believe they have, but if the patent holder wins they gets no more than a FRAND solution, that is, what they should have gotten under the agreement in the first place.  There is no risk to the exploiter of the technology in not taking a license before they exhaust their litigation options if the only risk to them for violating the agreement is to pay a FRAND based royalty or fee.  This puts the risks of loss entirely on the side of the patent holder, and encourages patent hold-out, which is as unsettling to a fair solution as any patent hold up might be.

ALJ Essex found that a licensee would violate the ETSI IPR rules if it uses the patented technology prior to negotiating a license.  The requirement to negotiate rests on not only the patent owner, but on the standard implementer as well.   But Respondents appear to “pull the words Fair Reasonable and Non-discriminatory” from the ETSI IPR Rules … but have shown no interest in the rules of procedure for settling conflicts, or for obtaining licenses.”  For example, the ETSI Rules include a section “4.3 Dispute Resolution” that includes seeking mediation from other ETSI members and, if no agreement, “the national courts of law have the sole authority to resolve IPR disputes.”  But in this case there is no evidence that Respondents reported InterDigital to ETSI or sought a license.  Thus, InterDigital has not violated any duty under the ETSI policy.

Negotiate in Good Faith.  Respondent also failed to show that InterDigital did not negotiate in good faith.  ALJ  Essex discussed the different incentives the parties have in negotiating a FRAND rate.  InterDigital solely derives revenue from licensing its patents and may be inclined to grant FRAND licenses because they  “allow[] for a profit”; in contrast, respondents benefit from holding out licensing discussions  because, with each passing day, “Respondents have not had to pay anything for a license they were by ETSI policy to obtain prior to adopting the potentially infringing technology.” Acknowledging that the threat of an exclusion order may move a license fee “in the upper direction on the FRAND scale,” ALJ Essex notes “there are  hundreds of other economic factors that go into the parties finding a royalty or flat amount both can agree on.”  ALJ Essex then reviewed the substance of the parties’ negotiations (heavily redacted in the public version) and concludes that, rather than negotiate for a license, “the respondents have attempted to put pressure on InterDigital by using IPR without a license.” Summarizing his findings, ALJ Essex finds InterDigital’s FRAND obligations have not been triggered:

The obligation that InterDigital has taken has been fulfilled, and the ETSI agreement anticipates that the parties if necessary will fall back on the national law involved. The Respondents have not taken the steps provided by ETSI to address a failure to license, and so have not done what they ought to do if they believe InterDigital has failed to negotiate in good faith. Finally, they have not followed the ETSI process for procuring a license, and have engaged in holdup by making the products that are alleged to infringe before taking a license. Under these facts there is no FRAND duty.

No “Patent Holdup” Concerns.  ALJ Essex concludes his FRAND analysis by rejecting arguments against exclusion orders for SEPs, which arguments were made by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”)/U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”). The FTC and PTO/DOJ essentially argued that FRAND license negotiations are tainted by the threat of an exclusion order, which creates the risk of patent holdup that allows the patent owner to secure an excessively high royalty rate on standard-essential IP. But ALJ Essex found no evidence that InterDigital had been negotiating in bad faith; rather, “it is the respondents that have taken advantage of the complainant and manufactured, marketed, and profited on good without taking a license to the IP at issue.” ALJ Essex further acknowledged the “hypothetical risk of holdup” in similar situations, but “we have evidence that it is not a threat in this case, or in this industry.” ALJ Essex cites TIA’s statement to the FTC that “TIA has never received any complaints regarding such ‘patent hold-up’ and does not agree that ‘patent holdup’ is plaguing the information and telecommunications technology standard development process.”

ALJ Essex found no basis to assume that exclusion remedy is not available in this case:

Neither the agreements imposed by ETSI, nor the law nor public policy require us to offer the Respondents a safe haven, where they are free to avoid their own obligations under the agreements, can manufacture potentially infringing goods without license or consequence, can seek to invalidate the IPR in question, and yet are free from the risk of a remedy under 19 USC 1337.

ALJ Essex concludes by fully rejecting the argument that limited exclusion orders should be removed as a remedy from cases involving FRAND encumbered patents:

For the Commission to adopt a policy that would favor a speculative and  unproven position held by other government agencies, without proof that the harm exists or that the risk of such harm was so great that the Commission should violate its statutory duty would damage the Commission’s reputation for integrity, and violate its duties under the law. We should and must determine the public interest, and the correct outcome of each matter based on the facts presented, and by applying the law to those facts. To take a pre-set position, without hearing evidence, would violate every concept of justice we are tasked to enforce.

FRAND-Based Affirmative Defenses.  ALJ Essex found the affirmative defenses–equitable estopple, unclean hands and patent misuse–to be “moot” given his finding that “Respondents to not infringe a valid patent and that InterDigital’s FRAND obligations are not triggered.”

Following settlement, the ITC rescinded the limited exclusion order against Carsem per the parties’ request. Recall from our May 1, 2014 post that the ITC determined that respondent Carsem infringed AMkor’s patent, found that Amkor’s patent was not essential to JEDEC standard, and issued a limited exclusion order barring the unlicensed entry of infringing articles into the United States. On May 23, Carsem and Amkor jointly petitioned to rescind the limited exclusion order based on a settlement under which the products are now licensed. The ITC granted that petition and the notice of the rescission was published in the Federal Register on June 24, 2014.