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.”

On December 30, 2013, InterDigital and Huawei filed a stipulation to dismiss the pending Delaware district court action (13-cv-00008) without prejudice, indicating the parties entered into a “binding settlement agreement and agreement to arbitrate”.  The Court promptly dismissed the case.

Yesterday, InterDigital and Huawei similarly moved to terminate the corresponding ITC action, Inv. No. 337-TA-868, with respect to Huawei pursuant to a settlement and arbitration agreement.  We anticipate the ALJ will grant the parties’ joint motion, removing Huawei from the case.  The 868 Investigation was initiated by InterDigital against Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE in February 2013, after a set of corresponding district court actions were filed in Delaware against each party last January.  As of right now, Huawei is the only party to have settled-out of this round of InterDigital infringement actions, and Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE continue to defend both the district court and ITC cases.

Late yesterday, Administrative Law Judge Robert K. Rogers issued an order denying the motion brought by Huawei and ZTE (later joined by Nokia) to stay ITC Inv. No. 337-TA-868 pending the outcome of a potential FRAND determination in the District of Delaware.  As we noted in our initial post on this motion, this is not altogether surprising, given the ITC’s statutory mandate to decide cases quickly.  So it looks like InterDigital’s latest standard-essential ITC case will stick with the procedural schedule on a path to a December 2013 hearing.  Huawei and ZTE’s quest to avoid a potential exclusion order, meanwhile, will shift to the Delaware district court, where they recently told the court that it could enjoin InterDigital from enforcing any ITC exclusion order on its SEPs until FRAND issues are resolved.

The order itself is confidential, but the screenshot below shows Continue Reading ALJ denies motion to stay InterDigital ITC case pending potential FRAND determination

Yesterday, Huawei and ZTE filed a joint reply brief in support of their respective motions to expedite determination of the terms of a FRAND license for InterDigital’s standard-essential patents.  The parties reiterate their willingness to take a FRAND license to InterDigital’s patents and assert that a prompt resolution of FRAND issues will moot other issues and litigation and will prevent Huawei/ZTE from facing irreparable harm.

Continue Reading Huawei, ZTE claim that without FRAND determination, InterDigital will “perpetuate an endless cycle of ITC litigation” over standard-essential patents

Yesterday we covered InterDigital’s opposition to Huawei, Nokia, and ZTE’s efforts to stay the ITC’s investigation into InterDigital’s latest Section 337 complaint pending a potential FRAND determination in the District of Delaware.  We also noted that the other respondent, Samsung, did not join the motion but stated that it did not oppose such a stay.    The ITC Investigative Staff from the Office on Unfair Important Investigations (a third party that participates in many ITC investigations as a representative of the public interest) also filed its own response to the motion yesterday.  The Staff opposes the motion to stay for a variety of reasons, which we will get into below.

Continue Reading ITC Staff opposes motion to stay pending FRAND determination in InterDigital Section 337 investigation (337-TA-868)

In early January, InterDigital filed a Section 337 complaint in the U.S. International Trade Commission against Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE, accusing those companies’ 3G/4G-compliant smartphones and tablets of infringing several InterDigital patents (this is now ITC Inv. No. 337-TA-868).  Because the ITC cannot award monetary relief, it’s common for complainants to also file corresponding infringement actions in district court, which InterDigital did here in the District of Delaware.  In order to relieve ITC respondents from the burden of litigating in multiple venues simultaneously, 28 U.S.C. § 1659 allows respondents to seek a mandatory stay of the district court action pending the outcome of the ITC case.  Generally, respondents seek such a stay.  But here, neither Huawei nor ZTE have sought a stay — in fact, they have asked the Delaware district court to expedite discovery on FRAND issues.  It’s an interesting strategic move in which they leverage recent guidance from government agencies and other pending litigation, and it’s a strategy that (if successful) may be followed by many more ITC respondents in the future.

Continue Reading Huawei, ZTE seek expedited FRAND determinations in InterDigital 3G/4G standard-essential patent dispute