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Posts Tagged: "SSOs"

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.

Integrity, Quality and Secure IP Rights Are Standard-Essential

The decision came down to two technologies for detecting and correcting noise in signals transmitted over the air for 5G—one of the most fundamental features for wireless communications. Scientists and engineers in 2016 vigorously debated for months which one was technologically superior and most efficient. China had lined up Chinese companies’ and allies’ votes behind the “polar codes” technology led by Huawei. Ultimately, the technology that had broader technical support would share a role in the 5G standard with Huawei’s preferred polar coding. But the heightened political battle in a traditional technical arena was unprecedented. This incident highlights a growing threat. “China has politicized the standards-making process,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reports. “Beijing expects Chinese companies to vote for [China-backed technologies] whether or not they are the best.”

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.

Koh rules Qualcomm is Obligated to License SEPs to Competitors

Qualcomm was not refusing to abide by its agreed to promises to license SEPs as required by the SSOs, as alleged by the FTC. Instead, Qualcomm wasn’t interested in licensing competing chip makers who wanted to used Qualcomm’s technology so they could make their own chips incorporating Qualcomm’s patented technology. Licensing competing manufacturers of chips is not what the IP policies of the SSOs require. What is required is that patent owners of SEPs not discriminate against applicants desiring to utilize the license for the purpose of implementing the technology. But that isn’t what a competing manufacture would be doing. A competing manufacturer would be creating the chip that enables, not implementing the technology into an end product. In fact, as Qualcomm pointed out, industry practice of SSOs is to require licensing only fully compliant end-user devices, and not components.

Rejection of proposal did not obviate requirement to disclose inventions to standard setting body

The Federal Circuit, however, found the district court’s enforceability finding to be unsupported by evidence. The rejection of Nokia’s proposal did not obviate Nokia’s requirement to disclose inventions that might be essential to the standard. Dr. Walker’s uncontroverted testimony explained that patent applications are to be disclosed at the time proposals are presented. “[A]n ETSI member’s duty to disclose a patent application on particular technology attaches at the time of the proposal and is not contingent on ETSI ultimately deciding to include that technology in an ETSI standard,” Bryson explained. Notwithstanding, the Federal Circuit elected to vacate this ruling rather than electing to reverse the district court because the existence of an implied waiver is an equitable defense.

DOJ Antitrust Chief Raises Standard Setting Concerns

Increasingly, Delrahim’s speeches are moving past where he began in his USC speech in November 2017, discussing this being the appropriate time to now have a discussion about the proper role antitrust enforcement plays with respect to standard setting, to his LeadershIP April 2018 speech where he explained the Antitrust Division will not hesitate to enforce against collusive anticompetitive conduct detrimental to patent owners. Furthermore, Delrahim has now several times discussed his view that in a free market, competition based economy the remedy for patent owners violating obligations to SSOs is a contractual remedy, not an antitrust remedy.

The New Era of Antitrust Law and Policy in Standards: Embracing Evidence Based Policy-making

On November 10, 2017, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) new top antitrust enforcer, Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Makan Delrahim, delivered a powerful speech on antitrust law and policy enforcement towards intellectual property rights (IPRs). Former USPTO Director David Kappos described it as “the most important DOJ antitrust speech on IP during my decades practicing law”. … The speech clarifies that the new AAG views “any policy proposals with one-sided focus on hold-up with great skepticism because they pose a serious threat on the innovating process,” and submits that antitrust law should not be misused to police the private commitments such as FRAND that IP holders make to SSOs. In this, the speech agrees with the view shared by several scholars that FRAND commitments are contracts and a potential breach of those commitments may not be best suited under the purview of antitrust law and that “there are perfectly adequate and more appropriate common law and statutory remedies available to the SSO or its members”.

Some Observations on the Market Reverberations of the Smart Phone Patent Wars

Commenting on the Yahoo! Inc. patent infringement lawsuit filed against Facebook in March of 2012, Mr. Cuban concludes his post by stating: “I hope Yahoo[!] is awarded $50 billion dollars. It is the only way that consumers will realize what is at stake with patent law as is. Then maybe we can get it right and further innovation and competition in this country.” These statements are from a very influential technology entrepreneur, investor and generally-recognized American business guru. Thus, it would seem that the continuous negative headlines from the smart phone patent wars are definitely giving patents a bad rap!

The Smart Phone Patent Wars: What are FRANDs For?

In all cases, the IEEE, JEDEC, ITU and TIA policies apply to both issued patents and pending applications (regardless of whether such applications are published). Further, all four policies make clear that the SSO will not get involved in the particulars as to what constitutes FRAND licensing practices. Interestingly, and for those paying attention, the IEEE, JEDEC and ITU policies require disclosure of essential patents, whereas the TIA policy simply encourages disclosure of essential patents. Again, there simply is no generally-accepted test to determine whether a particular license offer satisfies the reasonable aspect of an SSO participant’s FRAND commitment. How does this play out in practical terms? A recent case is instructive.

The Smart Phone Patent Wars: What the FRAND is Going On?

This all came to a head when, on February 22, 2012, Microsoft Corporation filed a formal competition law complaint against Google with European Union antitrust regulators. Microsoft’s complaint was brought about because Google (i.e., Motorola Mobility) “has refused to make its patents available at anything remotely close to a reasonable price” and “attempting to block sales of Windows PCs, our Xbox game console and other products.” Well isn’t Google’s “maximum per-unit royalty of 2.25% of the net selling price for the relevant end product” in compliance with FRAND!? If you consider that often dozens (and sometimes, hundreds) of patents cover a single device, the answer is a resounding “no.” At 2.25% per patent, it would take only about four dozen patents before the entire selling price would be paid in royalties – an obviously absurd result.

Are the Smartphone Patent Wars Giving Patents a Bad Rap?

So who is the villain in all of these wars responsible for again giving patents a bad rap? Well, the villain in not the ITC, USPTO or any U.S. government agency. Nor it is any country’s protectionist trade regime, or an “irreparably broken” U.S. or global patent system. No, the real villains here may very well be a handful of companies that willingly contributed patented technologies to various SSOs, championing their adoption and encouraging their use in a host of consumer electronics, and now claim (years later) that the very producers they encouraged to implement these standards should be barred from making, using or importing their products into the U.S. market.

FTC Proposal for Regulating IP Will Harm Consumers

We conclude that the FTC has not identified sufficient evidence to raise serious doubt about the current efficiencies of the IP marketplace. Indeed, the available empirical evidence suggests that these existing rules and practices work well. The interests of consumers are well represented by standard setting organizations and competition among technology implementers who at the end of the day must make goods and services that people wish to purchase.