Posts Tagged: "FRAND"

Standard Essential Patents: Examining and Learning from the European Approach

Standards-declared patents have been challenged in ex parte and post-grant review for years as part of enforcement efforts and other strategies, though the volume of patents declared essential and their largely unlitigated status has limited the appeal of post-grant challenges against them.  One such standard, High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), promises to be the successor to the current H.264 standard used by most streaming visual media.  As all parties seek to clear risk and license as they implement, developing patent pools have been utilizing new strategies for licensing standard-declared patents. Recently, Unified Patents launched an HEVC zone aimed at encouraging adoption and shedding light on the standard-essential patent (SEP) landscape, and has conducted damages studies, landscape models, and analysis of the patent landscape around the HEVC standard. As part of those efforts, Unified has been challenging patents related to the standard. To date, only a handful of litigations have been filed related to HEVC patents. 

Analyzing Judge Koh’s Errors in FTC v. Qualcomm: Highlights From Three Amicus Briefs

On August 30, a number of amicus briefs were filed in the FTC v. Qualcomm appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appeal stems from a May 2019 order finding Qualcomm liable for anticompetitive behavior and issuing “sweeping” injunctive relief. Following Judge Koh’s ruling, her opinion has been called “disastrous,” an “utter failure,” and “based on scant evidence,” and further been accused of “mangling” antitrust law. The Ninth Circuit, in granting a partial stay of the injunction, noted there were “serious questions on the merits” of Judge Koh’s decision. Three of the amicus briefs in particular point out the errors in Judge Koh’s opinions that have given rise to these “serious questions.” Retired Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel filed an amicus brief focusing primarily on patent law issues, including the smallest salable patent-practicing unit (SSPPU) concept and reasonable royalty calculation. The International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE) and Scholars of Law and Economics filed an amicus brief arguing that Judge Koh’s decision “is disconnected from the underlying economics of the case” and will cause serious harm to antitrust law. Finally, a number of Antitrust and Patent Law Professors, Economists, and Scholars filed an amicus brief highlighting how antitrust overreach, as they allege is present here, will harm innovation and arguing that the district court failed to engage in the level of real-world economic analysis as is required by this case.

The IEEE IPR Policy Amendments: Strategic Behavior and Feedback Loops

Speaking at IPWatchdog’s Patent Master’s Symposium today, Professor Kristen Osenga of The University of Richmond School of Law gave attendees a glimpse of her upcoming paper examining problems with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – Standards Association’s (IEEE-SA) 2015 amendment to its intellectual property rights (IPR) policy. In reference to the title of the panel on which she was speaking, “Balance, Transparency & Reasonableness: Converging Approaches to SEP Licenses and FRAND Royalties,” Osenga explained that “balance transparency, and reasonableness simply were not part of the process” by which IEEE adopted the new policy. Osenga’s paper, which is due to be published on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) by the end of 2019, will examine the actions leading up to the adoption of the 2015 amended policy, as well as the aftermath. Below is an abstract of the paper; many of the issues it will touch upon were also covered in Osenga’s 2018 paper, “Ignorance Over Innovation: Why Misunderstanding Standard Setting Organizations Will Hinder Technological Progress.”

Searching for Answers to the Standard Essential Patent Problem

Later this year (likely in October), the United Kingdom’s highest court will hear arguments on questions arising in two disputes concerning standard essential patents (SEPs). The UK Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals in Unwired Planet International Ltd and another v Huawei Technologies (UK) Co Ltd and another UKSC 2018/0214 and the joined cases Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and another v Conversant Wireless Licensing SARL UKSC 2019/0041 and ZTE Corporation and another v Conversant Wireless Licensing SARL UKSC 2019/0042. The arguments are likely to focus on one question: can a national court impose a global license in SEP cases? The closely watched appeal will be the culmination of years of litigation between the parties. In the Unwired Planet case, Mr. Justice Birss of the High Court heard five trials on the validity and infringement/essentiality of Unwired Planet’s patents. In April 2017, he then gave a mammoth judgment determining what a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) license would be, and setting royalty rates. Critically, he found that only a worldwide license would be FRAND in the circumstances of this case. The England and Wales Court of Appeal upheld this conclusion, in a judgment in October 2018. The Supreme Court will likely sit in a five-judge panel in a hearing that will last about two days and will be live streamed on its website (the date and panel details have not been confirmed yet). It will hand down judgment later this year or early in 2020. (Ironically, patent specialist Lord Kitchin is a member of the Supreme Court but will not be sitting in this case as it is his own judgment that is under appeal.) You might have thought that—after decades of legal debate and academic writing, dozens of judgments addressing questions such as what constitutes a FRAND license and what are reasonable royalties, and extensive discussions between technology companies—the questions around SEPs would be close to being resolved. But that is far from the case. The outcome of the UK Supreme Court hearing, for instance, will have an impact on negotiations between owners of SEP portfolios and implementers worldwide, at a time when standards are set to become critical to many more industries.

Federal Circuit Struggles to Parse SEP Licensing Rates in TCL Communication v. Ericsson

On August 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in TCL Communication v. Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, an appeal stemming from an action for declaratory judgment filed by TCL in the Central District of California. Among the various aspects of the district court proceedings being examined on appeal are the fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) rates set by the court for Ericsson’s standard essential patent (SEP) portfolio for cellular technology as well as whether the court abused Ericsson’s Seventh Amendment rights by entering a release payment based on factual issues that weren’t tried by a jury.

Ninth Circuit Told They Should Stay Judge Koh’s Qualcomm Injunction

On July 15, retired Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul Michel filed an amicus brief in Qualcomm’s appeal of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The following day, the United States government filed a statement of interest with the appellate court as well. Both parties filed in support of Qualcomm’s request for a partial stay of an injunction handed down this May in the Northern District of California, which requires Qualcomm to license its standard essential patents (SEPs) to modem-chip suppliers after determining that the company’s “no license, no chips” policy violated U.S. antitrust law.

The FTC’s Qualcomm Case Reveals Concerning Divide with DOJ on Patent Hold-Up

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.

Long Overdue Victory for the FTC Restores Balance to Standard Essential Patents

In a June 4 op-ed to IPWatchDog, James Edwards launched a scathing attack against Judge Koh and her 233-page ruling, which found Qualcomm to have engaged in anticompetitive behavior against competitors within the cellular chipset market. However, just as Mr. Edwards claims Judge Koh failed in her undertaking, so too has Mr. Edwards by ignoring the context and facts of the case. His argument against Judge Koh, deliberately or otherwise, does not mention the fact that this case involved the licensing of standard essential patents (SEPs) subject to the FRAND commitment, a contract between the patent holder and the standard setting organization to license the relevant patents on “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” terms. Indeed, Mr. Edwards makes no mention of standard essential patents in a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the facts and fit a narrative that intellectual property rights writ large are under attack by this decision.

Judge Koh Delivers Qualcomm Brutal Defeat Despite Apple’s Proven Manipulation

In a 233-page Order issued yesterday, Judge Lucy Koh of the United States Federal District Court for the Northern District of California handed Qualcomm a stinging defeat in the case brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that Qualcomm engaged in unlawful licensing practices. It was just three weeks ago that Apple and Qualcomm entered into a peace treaty. The revelations about Apple’s coordinated efforts to manipulate the licensing market by shrewdly challenging inferior patents to beat down prices should have led to the FTC dropping its pursuit of Qualcomm. It is no secret that Apple has urged regulators all over the world to chase Qualcomm for alleged anticompetitive licensing practices, but it has now come out in federal court proceedings that Apple just didn’t like the rate it agreed to pay Qualcomm and decided to manipulate the marketplace and then use that manipulation to pull the wool over the eyes of regulators, including the FTC, in an attempt to leverage a better deal with Qualcomm.Apple succeeded in achieving peace with Qualcomm, although the company has been badly beaten by Apple in near collusion with regulators all over the world. So why would the FTC continue to persecute Qualcomm given the revelations in the Apple/Qualcomm litigation that demonstrate that Qualcomm did not seek an unreasonably high licensing rate?

Qualcomm Survives Apple Manipulation, But FTC Continues Reckless Pursuit

Now that Apple and Qualcomm have made peace it would be easy to allow the case and the issues to recede into the background. That is likely what Apple would prefer, and almost certainly why Apple made the decision to settle with Qualcomm rather than proceed with trial. The case presented an existential threat for Qualcomm, which would have required the San Diego tech company to fight as if the company depended on victory–because it did.  What is most shocking is how successful Apple was in its coordinated effort to manipulate the licensing market and effectively extinguish any reasonable notion of a fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory rate (FRAND) in the process. Meanwhile, fabricated licensing rates wholly unrelated to the Qualcomm portfolio were used by Apple to dupe regulators into chasing Qualcomm across the world for committing phantom antitrust violations.

Latest Apple/Qualcomm Ruling Highlights Question of ‘Unwilling Licensees’

On March 20, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the Southern District of California issued an order denying a motion by Apple, which was seeking partial judgment against Qualcomm on that company’s claim that it had fulfilled its fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) obligations for licensing its standard-essential patents (SEPs). As a result, Qualcomm can move ahead with its efforts to prove that its SEP portfolio licensing activities have met the company’s FRAND obligations and that Apple has forfeited its right to FRAND licensing because it hasn’t been a willing licensee.The court sided with Qualcomm in finding that Apple’s arguments regarding the unsuccessful licensing negotiations presented a definite and concrete controversy. Qualcomm had cited to a 2017 Eastern District of Texas case, Huawei Techs. Co. v. T-Mobile US, Inc., to show an instance where a court had found subject-matter jurisdiction in a case where a patent holder sought a declaration that it had complied with FRAND obligations. In the current case, Apple hadn’t stated unequivocally that it wouldn’t pursue a stand-alone breach of contract action, giving rise to a substantial controversy with sufficient immediacy and reality to justify declaratory relief. A favorable outcome to Qualcomm on this claim would afford additional relief, as Qualcomm could demonstrate that Apple had engaged in unreasonable holdout behavior, relieving Qualcomm of further FRAND obligations towards Apple.

Innovator Organizations Applaud Delrahim Action on SEPs, Plead for Restoration of Injunctive Relief for Infringement

A number of organizations, including Ericsson, Nokia, Philips, Qualcomm, the Innovation Alliance and the Licensing Executives Society, have sent two separate letters to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, USPTO Director Andrei Iancu, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stating their support for the United States’ decision to withdraw the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division’s assent to the 2013 joint DOJ-U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments” (the 2013 Joint Policy Statement). The letter sent by Ericsson, Nokia, Philips, and Qualcomm begins by explaining that those signing the letters collectively spend many billions of dollars annually to “the development of cutting-edge that substantially contribute to the social welfare and quality of life of U.S. consumers,” and “and employ tens of thousands of people in the U.S.” The letter goes on to explain that injunctions are necessary to address the widespread patent infringement that has occurred in recent years; infringement that risks innovators’ ability to continue to innovate and create next generation technologies. Without property protections it is economically irrational to invest the billions of dollars required to create cutting-edge technologies.

District Court Denies FRAND Breach of Contract and Sherman Act Summary Judgment Motions by ASUS and InterDigital

In a decision published in redacted form on January 29, Judge Beth Labson Freeman of the Northern District of California denied ASUSTek Computer Inc.’s and ASUS Computer International’s (collectively, ASUS’s) motion for summary judgment that InterDigital, Inc.’s (InterDigital’s) standard essential patent (SEP) licensing practices breached its FRAND obligations. The court also granted-in-part and denied-in-part InterDigital’s motion for summary judgment, rejecting a request to dismiss ASUS’s Sherman Antitrust Act claim but granting summary judgment as to issues relating to judicial and promissory estoppel and as to a California competition law claim. ASUS Computer Int’l v. InterDigital, Inc., Case No. 5:15-cv-01716-BLF, ECF No. 367 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 29, 2018). The court’s ruling comes as the case is progressing toward a jury trial, presently scheduled for May 2019. Several of the issues addressed are fact-specific to the case, but the rulings relating to breach of contract, most favorable licensees, and the Sherman Act are of particular interest for SEP licensing and illustrate how the legal landscape continues to evolve.

Standard Essential Patents: The Myths and Realities of Standard Implementation

Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) are patents that are unavoidable for the implementation of a standardized technology. They represent core, pioneering innovation that entire industries will build upon. These patents protect innovation that has taken extraordinary effort to achieve. Standard Development Organizations (SDOs) exist as a mechanism for industry innovators to work together to collectively identify and select the best and most promising innovations that will become the foundation for the entire industry to build upon for years to come. Those contributing patented technologies to the development of a standard are asked to provide a FRAND (which stands for Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) assurance, in essence committing to providing access to patents that are or may become essential to the implementation of the standard.

FTC v. Qualcomm: Court Requires Licensing of Standard Essential Patents to Competitors

The Qualcomm decision is unique in that it appears to be the first decision to require a SEP holder to license its patented technology to its competitors, and not just its downstream customers, on FRAND terms.  This decision casts doubt on the longstanding practice, common in industries such as the telecommunication and automotive industries, in which SEP holders seek to secure “FRAND” licenses with downstream companies that make finished products, while refusing to license (or licensing on non-FRAND terms) those same SEPs to their competitors or other companies further up the supply chain (such as component suppliers).  The decision also emphasizes U.S. courts’ focus on the express language of SSOs’ IPR policies and the willingness to review the SSO guidelines in interpreting the agreements SEP holders enter into with SSOs.  In this regard, the decision may bode well for SEP implementers, given the court’s broad understanding of what it means to “practice” a relevant standard and its view that SEP holders’ FRAND obligations extend to all potential licensees, irrespective of their position in the supply chain.