a partner at WilmerHale, is an intellectual property and antitrust litigator. He has particular experience with disputes at the intersection of antitrust and intellectual property law. He has litigated through trial a variety of issues relating to standard-essential patents in the telecommunications industry, including antitrust and contract claims, the determination of FRAND royalties, patent exhaustion and license defenses, as well as defenses to infringement arising from standard-setting participation.
This article represents his personal views and not necessarily those of the firm or its clients.
For more information or to contact Tim, please visit his Firm Profile Page.
Part one of this two-part series responding to a series of articles on FRAND statements addressed the appropriate royalty base for cellular standard-essential patents (SEPs). This article now addresses the fourth and fifth articles in that series, where the authors describe the “FRAND process.” The authors start from a mistaken premise that holders of SEPs subject to FRAND commitments enjoy more rights than all other patent holders traditionally possess, and that SEP holders’ FRAND commitments impose obligations on potential licensees rather than on the SEP holders themselves. For example, the authors appear to recoil at the idea that “SEP owners should prove to prospective licensees that licenses are needed.” As the authors apparently conceive of the FRAND process, potential licensees have no right to challenge the claims of SEP holders as to the necessity of a license. The only relevant question to them appears to be how large a royalty payment should be, without regard to the patent merits.
A recent series of five articles on IPWatchdog address various aspects of licensing cellular standard essential patents (SEPs) on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms by examining statements from entities involved with licensing. The authors also provide their commentary on the statements and cite various authorities that they suggest are consistent or inconsistent with principles advocated in the statements. The articles lean heavily in favor of the positions of a few companies that derive significant revenue from SEP licensing. For this reason, they fail to present a balanced view. Indeed, to read the series, one might conclude that the major priority for SEP licensing should be to extract excessive revenues for SEP patent owners. Quite the contrary, a key priority should be applying FRAND safeguards against outsized, windfall profits resulting from abuse of SEPs to the detriment of innovative companies that engage in research and development and supply products to the marketplace. Those safeguards include applying well-established principles of patent law to SEPs, including when it comes to patent valuation and patent litigation, where a patent holder is rewarded with fair royalties that reflect the incremental value of any infringed and valid SEP.
On May 2, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) took the unusual step of submitting a Statement of Interest in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) case against Qualcomm to take a position contrary to the FTC. The DOJ argued that “[b]ecause an overly broad remedy could result in reduced innovation, with the potential to harm American consumers, this Court should hold a hearing and order additional briefing to determine a proper remedy that protects competition while working minimal harm to public and private interests.” In response, the FTC informed the court that it “did not participate in or request” the DOJ’s filing, that it “disagree[d] with a number of contentions” made by the DOJ, and that the DOJ “misconstrues applicable law and the record.” In the end, the court agreed with the FTC and issued injunctive relief against Qualcomm without conducting the further remedy proceedings the DOJ advocated. The public feuding between the two federal antitrust enforcement agencies about how to resolve a case litigated by one them was a remarkable spectacle. It also brought into focus a broader divide between the FTC and DOJ on the role of antitrust law in addressing patents that are essential to industry standards (SEPs) and subject to commitments to license on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.