Posts in Antitrust

Amazon Brand Protection Report Details Major Anticounterfeiting Investments But Small Businesses Want Stronger Policing Against Knock-Offs

Earlier this month, e-commerce giant Amazon.com issued its latest Brand Protection Report detailing steps taken by the tech titan to reduce the tide of counterfeit products being sold to consumers around the globe. While the report identifies several concrete steps taken by Amazon to prevent knock-offs from being listed for sale, there are plenty of questions that yet remain as to whether Amazon is genuinely committed to eliminating sales of fake branded products that the company has been known to ignore.

Kudos to USPTO, DOJ, NIST for Abandoning a Bad Draft, but Future Remains Murky for SEP Holders

In a recent surprise decision, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology officially withdrew their 2019 Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments and declined to advance an alternative policy statement as a replacement. While the withdrawal of the 2019 policy statement was seen as a foregone conclusion (given the far more SEP-restrictive nature of a December 2021 draft policy statement (DPS) circulated by the agencies), moving forward without any guidance was not on anyone’s DOJ policy bingo card for 2022. The slim guidance that this withdrawal announcement does provide, however, paints a murky picture for the ability of SEP holders to obtain injunctive relief.

Announcements on Withdrawal of SEP Policy Statements Lack Clarity and Leave Patent Owners Guessing

As was recently reported by IPWatchdog (here and here), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST), and the U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division (DOJ) issued a statement on June 8 withdrawing the December 19, 2019 Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments (2019 Policy Statement). A footnote to the statement further provides that “the agencies do not reinstate the January 8, 2013, Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments issued by the DOJ and the USPTO.” Curiously, this statement makes no mention of the 2021 Draft Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments (2021 Draft Policy Statement), which draft statement was criticized by a broad cross-section of industry participants for a variety of different reasons. Regardless, our question is simply this: why did the 2019 Policy Statement need to be withdrawn instead of simply not proceeding with the 2021 Draft Policy Statement or, alternatively, modifying those portions of the 2019 Policy Statement that the agencies did not agree with? By throwing the baby out with the bath water, patent owners are now left to guess where the agencies stand on such issues.

Senators Push for Vote on American Innovation and Choice Online Act Despite Criticisms on Bill’s Regulatory Enforcement Mechanisms

On June 8, news reports indicated that U.S. Senators from both sides of the political aisle were confident that the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee this January, has the necessary votes to pass the Senate and move on to the U.S. House of Representatives. While several top Senate lawmakers continue to argue that the bill will enact much needed antitrust enforcement mechanisms against Big Tech, the bill has several critics and has raised midterm election concerns for some Senators facing tough re-election cycles.

The Biden Administration’s Neutrality Position on SEP Remedies is a Good Move

On June 8, the Biden Administration announced a detente on the issue of standard essential patents (SEPs) through coordinated statements made by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Department of Justice Antitrust Division, and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The casual reader, or reader who only quickly glanced at the headlines, might be mistaken into believing the Biden Administration had declared war on SEP owners due to the Administration rescinding the 2019 Joint Policy Statement between the USPTO, DOJ and NIST that was biased in favor of the possibility of SEPs being like any other patent, with remedies for infringement possibly including injunctive relief. Those familiar with Administration’s efforts on SEPs will recall that a 2021 draft policy statement had been published, which swung heavily against patent owners and resurrected the debunked myth that patent owners engage in hold-up activities.

DOJ, USPTO and NIST Withdraw SEP Policy Statements

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have announced that they are officially withdrawing the 2019 Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments. However, the withdrawal does not reinstate the 2013 Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments, which had been harshly criticized by many in the IP community. It also seems to scrap the Draft 2021 Statement, which also drew the ire of the IP world. The DOJ – Antitrust Division issued a request for public comment on a new iteration of the Policy Statement in December 2021. The announcement came in response to President Joe Biden’s July 2021 Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, which asked the three agencies to review the 2019 statement.

Examining the Confounding Public Interest Statement by the FTC in a Recent ITC Investigation

On May 17, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) submitted to Lisa Barton, Secretary of the International Trade Commission (ITC), a statement they believed was relevant to the public interest considerations before the Commission in a matter involving certain UMTS and LTE cellular communication modules (337-TA-1240). The ITC in many cases will invite statements on the Public Interest, and the FTC is often invited to make a submission. It should be noted, however,  “Public Interest” in the ITC is a matter of statute, and there are four public interest factors which are statutory. Any statement in the Public Interest must address one or more of those factors. Other matters not within the statute are not public interest factors.

SEP Licensing is Not a Promise, It’s a Two-Way Street

“For 200 years, the world was getting along just fine without a policy statement on SEPs [standard essential patents],” said Andrei Iancu earlier this week at Patent Litigation Masters™ 2022, discussing Biden Administration attempts to revisit the 2019 SEP policy agreement among the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Department of Justice (DOJ). “Standard essential patents are patents too… the regular rule of law should apply.” Iancu, former USPTO Director, and current partner at Irell & Manella, went on to say that the real goal of those constantly chipping away at patent rights is simple: “Weaken patents so that the big entities can have freer reign to get bigger, to infringe patents in a less encumbered way.”

Policy Shift Against SEP Rights Poses Risks for U.S. Innovation and Undermines Mandate of the ITC

resident Biden took an important step toward safeguarding the U.S. economy with last year’s Executive Order No. 14,036, “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” aimed at promoting competition at home in the face of unfair competitive pressure from state-owned or sponsored firms overseas, particularly in China. That Executive Order includes regulatory and policy reviews across the spectrum of American commerce, noting “a fair, open, and competitive marketplace has long been a cornerstone of the American economy. It also emphasized the importance of achieving this goal through promoting competition and innovation by firms small and large at home and worldwide.” Yet, the proposal directed to one facet of the order — for patents covering inventions that are essential to a technology standard such as Wi-Fi or 5G wireless communication — risks not only undermining American innovation and competitiveness but also upending the notion of fairness and the very policy the Executive Order seeks to advance.

Mossoff-Barnett Comment on EU Commission’s Call for SEP Evidence Spotlights Misconceptions About FRAND Obligations

On May 9, a comment signed by a coalition of 25 law professors, economists and former U.S. government officials, and co-written by Adam Mossoff, Law Professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, and Jonathan Barnett, the Torrey H. Webb Professor of Law at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, was submitted to the European Commission as a response to the EU governing body’s call for evidence on standard-essential patents. Like another recent response to the EU Commission by a group of scholars with the International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE), the Mossoff-Barnett comment attempts to dispel several misconceptions about the impact that SEPs have on the commercialization of new technologies, especially major communications technologies like 4G/LTE and WiFi that have been widely commercialized to the benefit of the vast majority of global consumers, thanks in large part to the patent rights that help to structure commercialization efforts.

Scholars Warn EU Commission Not to Upend Delicate SEP Balance

Four scholars with the International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE) have sent comments to the European Commission urging against any changes to the EU’s legal framework for licensing of standard-essential patents (SEPs) that would limit SEP holders’ ability to seek injunctions against alleged infringers. The ICLE scholars write: “It is simply not helpful for a regulatory body to impose a particular vision of licensing negotiations if the goal is more innovation and greater ultimate returns to consumers.” The comments come in response to the Commission’s February 2022 Call for evidence, which explained that “some users have found that the system for licensing SEPs is not transparent, predictable or efficient. This initiative seeks to create a fair and balanced licensing framework and may combine legislative and non-legislative action.” The feedback period ended May 9 and asked stakeholders to submit their views on: “(i) transparency; (ii) the concept of licensing on FRAND terms and conditions, including the level of licensing; and (iii) effective enforcement.”

As Judiciary Committee Votes, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Responds to Tillis on IP and Antitrust

As part of the ongoing confirmation process for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) submitted a number of questions for the record, including 35 IP-related questions on topics ranging from patent eligibility to anti-suit injunctions and 15 antitrust questions, to which Judge Jackson recently responded. While Tillis voted against Judge Jackson’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court due to concerns about her judicial philosophy, he recently indicated that she has the appropriate temperament for the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is voting on Jackson’s confirmation today.

Fifth Circuit Says Auto Parts Suppliers Have No Article III Standing to Bring Antitrust Claims Against SEP Holders

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Monday vacated and remanded a district court decision that had dismissed Continental Automotive Systems, Inc.’s suit against several standard-essential patent holders and their licensing agent, claiming violations of federal antitrust law and state law. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas dismissed with prejudice Continental’s Sherman Act claims for lack of antitrust standing and, alternatively, for failure to plausibly plead certain elements. Continental appealed, but the Fifth Circuit said Continental’s claims should have been dismissed for lack of Article III standing because it had not proven that the SEP holders had “denied Continental property to which it was entitled and that Continental thereby suffered a cognizable injury in fact.”

Big Tech and China, Inc. Rejoice in DOJ Draft SEP Policy Statement and FTC Speech

Last summer, I lamented how the Department of Justice – Antitrust Division (DOJ), without Senate confirmed leadership, was hastily pushing through policies that augmented the already-enormous power of Big Tech and benefitted China’s interests. Similarly, I uncovered how the App Association, a Big Tech-funded advocacy organization masquerading as a group of small app developers, was able to trick the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into inviting it to speak at its July 2021 Commission meeting alongside legitimate small businesses. This is the same association that supported Apple in its litigation against (real) app developers, issued a June 2021 press release against the House bills aimed at regulating Big Tech, and misses no opportunity to support Big Tech interests.

Bipartisan Groups of Administration Officials, Senators, Voice Opposition to New Joint Policy Statement on SEPs

Friday, February 4, marked the deadline for submission of comments on the latest iteration of the Joint Department of Justice (DOJ)-U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)-National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary FRAND Commitments. The request for comments came on the heels of President Joe Biden’s July 2021 Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, which asked the three agencies to review the 2019 statement. In perhaps one of the most surprising submissions, a bipartisan group of former presidential administration officials jointly commented that the new version of the Policy Statement is “disconnected from the realities of SEP licensing,” “unbalanced,” and would “disadvantage the United States on the global stage.”