In a Rarely-Seen Joint-Effort in the Competition Arena, the DOJ and the USPTO Unite in Issuing a Policy Statement on Remedies Involving Standard Essential Patents

by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
Contact

On January 8, 2013 – less than a week after the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") entered into a consent order with Google,[1] under which Google is generally banned from seeking injunctions on its F/RAND[2] -encumbered standard essential patents ("SEPs")[3] – the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") banded together with the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") (jointly referred here as "the Agencies") in issuing the Policy Statement on Remedies for Standard Essential Patents Subject to F/RAND Commitment ("Policy Statement on Remedies for SEPs").

This was a rare pairing in that, in the past, the DOJ has generally joined forces with the FTC in jointly issuing guidelines in the area of competition and antitrust enforcement policy. Examples include the DOJ-FTC joint "Antitrust Policy Enforcement Regarding Accountable Care Organizations," "Antitrust Enforcement and Intellectual Property Rights: Promoting Innovation and Competition," "Antitrust Guidelines for the Licensing of Intellectual Property," "Antitrust Guidelines for Collaborations Among Competitors," and "Horizontal Merger Guidelines." The Policy Statement on Remedies for SEPs is, therefore, a departure from that established practice.

The DOJ issued the policy statement in its capacity as "the executive-branch agency charged with protecting U.S. consumers by promoting and protecting competition," and the USPTO in its capacity as "the executive-branch agency charged with responsibility for examining patent applications, issuing patents, and—through the Secretary of Commerce—advising the President on domestic and certain international issues of intellectual property policy." Policy Statement on Remedies for SEPs at 8.

Noting the procompetitive virtues of consensus-driven standards along with their risks, the Agencies sought to balance the rights of SEP holders against the risk of hold-up to implementers. On the one hand, the Agencies recognized that "[i]n some circumstances, the remedy of an injunction or exclusion order may be inconsistent with the public interest" and "may harm competition and consumers." Id. at 6. On the other hand, they rejected a general ban on injunctive relief actions for SEPS, see id. at 7-8, or rigid imposition of "one-size-fits-all mandates for royalty-free or below-market licensing, which would undermine the effectiveness of the standardization process and incentives for innovation," id. at 5-6.

In determining whether an injunction or exclusion order may be appropriate, or otherwise should be denied, the Agencies offered a flexible approach that could be used to adapt the remedy to the specific facts of each case by identifying non-exhaustive "relevant factors when determining whether public interest should prevent the issuance of an exclusion order… or when shaping such a remedy." Id. at 7-9. One such factor is "whether a patent holder has acknowledged voluntarily through a commitment to license its patents on F/RAND terms that money damages, rather than injunctive or exclusionary relief, is the appropriate remedy for infringement." Id. at 9.

However, according to the Agencies, "This is not to say that consideration of the public interest factors … would always counsel against the issuance of an exclusion order to address infringement of a F/RAND-encumbered, standards-essential patent"; such an order may still be "an appropriate remedy" in some circumstances. Id. at 7.

For example, an exclusion order by the International Trade Commission ("ITC") or a district court injunction may be appropriate when "a putative licensee refuses to pay what has been determined to be a F/RAND royalty, or refuses to engage in a negotiation to determine F/RAND terms." Id. The Agencies also made clear that "a constructive refusal to negotiate" could be the basis for injunctive relief or an exclusion order, such as when the putative licensee "insist[s] on terms clearly outside the bounds of what could reasonably be considered to be F/RAND terms in an attempt to evade the putative licensee's obligation to fairly compensate the patent holder." Id. Other factors relevant to a particular case may also justify such a relief, making the inquiry a case-specific one. See id. (noting that "[t]his list is not an exhaustive one," thus leaving room for other considerations).

In contrast, the FTC has taken a much more restrictive view of SEP inunctions. For example, in its Google order, the FTC generally banned efforts by Google to seek injunctive relief on its SEPs, except in the following narrowly enumerated circumstances against a potential licensee who (a) is outside the jurisdiction of the United States, (b) has stated in writing or sworn testimony that it will not license on any terms, (c) refuses to enter a license on terms determined to be F/RAND in the “Final Ruling” of a court (after exhaustion of all appeals) or through binding arbitration or other mutually-agreed process, or (d) fails to provide a written confirmation to a SEP owner in response to a F/RAND Terms Letter as outlined in the FTC Order. FTC Decision & Order at 7-8. The order also allows Google to seek injunctive relief in certain circumstances when the putative licensee first sues Google for injunctions on the potential licensee’s own SEPs. Id. at 11-12. The order also requires rigid adherence to an offer of a detailed licensing agreement and specific steps for negotiating and resolving disputes before pursuing any injunctive relief consistent with the above conditions. See, e.g., id. at 9-12.

Notably, the FTC order is not based on the antitrust laws, but instead relies on Section 5 of the FTC Act, which is primarily a consumer protection statute that prohibits "unfair method of competition" and "unfair acts or practices." See FTC Complaint, ¶¶ 31-32. Commissioner Ohlhausen dissented generally questioning the applicability of Section 5 to Google's conduct and the "doctrinal confusion" the order would cause, among other reasons. See generally Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Ohlhausen. Commissioner Rosch issued a separate statement that called into question the FTC's use of Section 5's "unfair method of competition" prong without any "limiting principles" – such as "the requirement that a respondent have monopoly or near-monopoly power" – which risked "unsettl[ing] 'settled principles of [Sherman Act] Section 2 law' as defined by the Supreme Court case law under Section 2, … as well as the language of Section 2 itself." Sep. Stmt. of Commissioner Rosch at 3-4.



[1] All of the relevant documents, including the FTC Complaint, the Decision and Order, and Separate and Dissenting Statements respectively of Commissioners Rosch and Ohlhausen can be found on the FTC's website at http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/1210120/index.shtm.

[2] "F/RAND" refers to a commitment made by a patentee to an industry standard setting organization ("SSO") that the patentee will license its patents that are, or will become, essential to a standard adopted by the SSO on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms.

[3] Throughout, "SEPs" is used to refer only to F/RAND-encumbered standard essential patents. These are patents that have been designated as essential to the functionality of an approved standard, such as the telecommunications standards applicable to mobile devices operating on a 3G network, pursuant to the specifications of an SSO.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
Contact
more
less

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!