Oral Argument in the appeal of Judge Koh’s FTC v. Qualcomm decision is schedule to take place February 13, 2020 before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to consider whether and to what extent competition law should apply to licensing standard essential patents (SEPs). This appears to be the most important and impactful U.S. case so far on the issue and could have far reaching impact on domestic and foreign SEP licensing.

The Court will hear from Qualcomm and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and has also allotted the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) five minutes to present as amicus curiae during the argument. In addition to the parties-at-interest and DOJ, twenty-two amicus briefs have been lodged in the case by other companies, licensors, industry groups, academics, and interested parties. In fact, due to public interest in the case, the Ninth Circuit has created a separate website dedicate to the appeal, “to notify the media and public of procedures and rules for admission to proceedings, as well as access to case information.” The FTC also maintains its own website on the litigation that includes all the FTC’s filings and public statements regarding the proceedings.

In anticipation of the upcoming hearing, we’re provide this summary of the appeal issues and topics raised by the amicus briefs. As usual, we provide links to the filings and encourage you to read through them yourself.
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Today, the Unites States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”), the U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division (“DOJ”) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) issued a joint “Policy Statement on Remedies For Standards-Essential Patents Subject To Voluntary F/RAND Commitments.”  This policy statement supplants  the prior 2013 joint policy statement on remedies

Today, the Ninth Circuit issues an Order that stays Judge Koh’s injunction entered in the FTC v. Qualcomm case in order to maintain the status quo so that the Ninth Circuit can decide whether Judge Koh’s “order and injunction represent a trailblazing application of the antitrust laws, or instead an improper excursion beyond the outer limits of the Sherman Act”, which is not decided by this Order but “is a matter for another day.”

We provide a summary of the ruling below and, as always, recommend reading the 7-page Order for yourself (see link in first sentence above).   The Ninth Circuit has not decided the substantive issues–that will be done on “another day”–but did indicate that Qualcomm had raised meritorious arguments that (1) Qualcomm was not required to license its SEPs to rival chip suppliers and (2) Qualcomm could assess royalties on its SEPs on a per-handset basis (rather than based on modem chip component of the handset).

As far as next steps, the parties and interested amicus on all sides of the issue are preparing briefing on an expedited schedule in preparation for a hearing at the Ninth Circuit in January 2020.
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And the dance has officially begun in the U.S. inter-governmental dispute about applying competition law to the technical standard setting process between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and we all have an invitation to the brawl.  DOJ filed an Amicus Brief that supports Qualcomm’s request that the Ninth

Last week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Staff filed a response that attacks the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Statement of Interest in the FTC v. Qualcomm case. (See May 3, 2019 post on DOJ Statement of Interest).  FTC Staff stated that it did not request the DOJ filing, which FTC Staff called untimely.  FTC Staff also indicated that the focus of DOJ’s Statement of Interest–the need for briefing and an evidentiary hearing on remedy–was misplaced because evidence of remedy already has been considered and the trial court already decided not to consider remedy separately.  And FTC Staff disagrees with DOJ’s view of the law.

The FTC Staff position is not unexpected given the differing views of the role of competition law with standard essential patents between the FTC Staff’s position (which was set when this case was filed as a parting-shot in the last few days of the old administration) and the current DOJ administration.  That FTC Staff would take off the gloves so soon and start exchanging public, adversarial blows with its sibling agency is a bit unexpected.  But, of course, they may argue that DOJ drew first blood in filing the Statement of Interest. 
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Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Statement of Interest of the United States of America in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Qualcomm about standard essential patent licensing.  DOJ does not currently take a position on the merits of the FTC’s liability claim against Qualcomm that is awaiting decision by the district court following a January trial, but is making the court aware that there should be separate briefing and an evidentiary hearing on remedy if the court finds that Qualcomm is liable.  This is a very interesting development with implications beyond the instant case with much reading between the lines–and the good stuff buried in footnotes–as to what is to come.  Somewhat like the first 10 minutes of last week’s Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night” where warriors lined-up for some kind of battle to happen but it was not clear what exactly that would be.
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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:
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European and U.S. competition authorities may be making a course correction toward a more balanced approach to standard essential patents (“SEPs”)  following contemporary enforcement activity that had favored implementers over patent holders.

Specifically, recent remarks by the new administration’s U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) antitrust head explained that patent hold-up by patent owners may not be as big an issue as some had suggested and that patent hold-out by implementers may be a bigger concern.  Indeed, he expressed concern about improper collusion among implementers within standard setting organizations (“SSOs”) to enact intellectual property rights (“IPR”) policies that unduly devalue patents  and undermine innovation.  These remarks from the new administration has caused many to question the viability of the IEEE ‘s 2015 IPR Policy change that was perceived as very implementer oriented, but not challenged by the prior DOJ administration. (See our Feb. 5, 2015 Post about the prior DOJ administration’s business review letter on the IEEE policy change).

Further, the European Commission (“EC”) recently issued non-binding guidance for SEPs that did not suggest bright line rules urged by implementers for negotiating SEP FRAND licenses–e.g., did not suggest component-level licensing and royalty base, rather than end product level—and reflects a balanced approach more consistent with long-standing industry custom and practice in implementing FRAND licensing commitments.

We provide a summary of these statements, but encourage you to read the DOJ remarks and EC guidance directly for yourself (they are not long), which may allow you to detect and avoid interpretive spin from those entrenched on either side of the issues.  For example, some have suggested that the EC guidelines support licensing at the component level; but that’s not what the EC guidelines actually say and its been reported that the EC intentionally declined to suggest component-level licensing in these guidelines.
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On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that it was closing its investigation into Samsung’s use of standard essential patents, which investigation had “focused on Samsung’s attempts to use its SEPs to obtain exclusion orders from the [ITC] relating to certain iPhone and iPad models.”  DOJ stated that further investigation was no longer