The U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) recently denied a respondents request to use the Early Disposition Pilot Program to address “whether the asserted patents are standards-essential and are encumbered by mandatory licensing obligations giving rise to public interest concerns.”
Respondent 3S-Smart Software Solutions (“3S”) had submitted a first letter requesting use of the ITC’s Early Disposition Pilot Program because, among other things, the asserted patents may be essential to a standard set by the OPC Foundation (an automation industry standards setting organization) and subject to a royalty-free license. On request, the OPC Foundation currently was determining whether the patents are essential to its standards. 3S asserts that, if the OPC Foundation finds that the patents are essential, OPC Foundation’s IPR Policy would require that the patents be licensed on a royalty-free basis. 3S argued that early determination of this defense would be an efficient way to proceed.
Complainant Rockwell Automation, Inc. (“Rockwell”) responded that it had not declared any patents to be essential, that the OPC Foundation’s review is not complete and that the outcome of such review will be subject to a challenge by Rockwell that could take months or years to resolve. Further, Rockwell argues it could always withdraw from the OPC Foundation and assert its patents without being required to offer a royalty-free or FRAND license. So early disposition would be inefficient and unduly delay resolution of the investigation.
3S replied that Rockwell could not cure its SEP issues by withdrawing from the OPC Foundation, because Rockwell was under an obligation to disclose its essential patents to the OPC Foundation and Rockwell’s withdrawal does not remove that promise. Though not clear, 3S may be alluding to a potential defense that the patents may be unenforceable because Rockwell breached an obligation under the OPC Foundation’s IPR Policy to disclose its standard essential patents to the OPC Foundation.
The Commission rejected 3S’s request and gave the following short explanation for its decision:
The Commission assesses the effect of potential remedies on the statutory public interest factors following an affirmative determination on violation — once the actual scope of the Section 337 violation is determined, including the scope of valid and enforceable IP rights that are infringed (or other unfair acts) as well as the scope of imported infringing articles involved. As such, this issue is outside the scope of the Early Disposition Pilot Program as the issue cannot be resolved at the beginning of an investigation.