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.
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.”
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.
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.”
On February 3, during an Executive Business Meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) proposed several amendments on the markup of S. 2710, the Open App Markets Act. The bill would apply existing U.S. antitrust law under the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act or the Clayton Act for enforcement actions against companies that engage in anticompetitive practices in app stores, such as requiring app developers to use a favored in-app payment system for accessing consumers through that app store.
On January 20, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted 16-6 to advance S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, out of committee and toward a full vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate. If passed, the bill would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Attorney General and state attorneys general new powers to bring antitrust enforcement actions against major online platforms that are alleged to be engaging in discriminatory conduct by preferencing their own products and services over competing products and services that are also available on those platforms.
On January 19, consumer tech giant Apple filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) asking the agency to institute a Section 337 investigation against Swedish telecom firm Ericsson, asserting a trio of patents related to millimeter wave technology used by electronic devices communicating on mobile 5G networks. The Section 337 complaint is the latest salvo in a legal battle that highlights the mounting tension surrounding standard-essential patents (SEPs) and where infringement litigation fits into the fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) obligations that standards-setting organizations (SSOs) impose upon SEP owners.
In Part II of this series, we considered the language of a specific licensing commitment made to European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the prevailing law relating thereto. In this Part III, we consider the 2021 Draft Policy Statement with a particular view to highlighting its inconsistencies with the ETSI framework and the inapplicability of the hold-up narrative to the situation involving an individual United States patent. Despite its purported purpose of providing the agencies’ views on “remedies for the infringement of standards-essential patents (or SEPs) that are subject to a RAND and/or F/RAND licensing commitment”, the 2021 Draft Policy Statement does not take a clear position on this issue, instead merely stating the following (some might say “the obvious”):
On January 12, a coalition of 28 property rights groups signed a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter asking those officials to reconsider and withdraw a draft policy statement issued in early December regarding licensing negotiations and remedies for standard-essential patents (SEPs) subject to voluntary fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) commitments. According to the coalition, the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) statement will only serve to bolster the fortunes of China, the major economic rival to the United States, by allowing Chinese tech implementers to infringe SEPs without respect to the rights of U.S. innovators.
On Tuesday, January 11, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied Facebook’s motion to dismiss a complaint brought against it by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), holding that the FTC had stated a plausible claim for relief under Section 2 of the Sherman Act. The FTC filed a complaint on December 9, 2020, asserting one count of monopoly maintenance under Section 2 of the Sherman Act. Facebook moved to dismiss both this case, and a related state case. The district court dismissed the Commission’s complaint but granted the FTC the opportunity to amend. Following a leadership change from when the complaint was initially filed, the FTC filed an amended complaint in August of 2021. L
In Part I of this series of articles, we provided an overview of the 2013 and 2019 policy statements that preceded the 2021 Draft Policy Statement. In this Part II, we consider the language of a specific licensing commitment made to European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and various legal pronouncements that have been made in relation thereto.
Much like a biological ecosystem, the development, commercialization, and licensing of standardized technologies involves a delicate balance among many diverse and competing participants. The 2021 Draft Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments (hereinafter “the 2021 Draft Policy Statement”), however, appears to be primarily concerned with an issue faced exclusively by implementers when dealing with owners of larger patent portfolios, but without explicitly saying so. This observation is based on the 2021 Draft Policy Statement’s reference to the vague and ill-defined notion of patent “hold-up”.
The Justice Department’s December 6, 2021 Draft Policy Statement on Licensing Negotiations and Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary F/RAND Commitments (“2021 DPS”) badly misses the mark and merits a failing grade. By contrast, the 2019 PS (issued by the Justice Department, NIST, and the U.S. PTO) is eminently sound, and merits being reaffirmed. The DPS should be viewed in the context of the benefits conferred on society by patents that read on standards, commonly referred to as standard essential patents (SEPs). Given the economic importance of SEPs, public policy should encourage investment in them and ensure that they receive adequate legal protection. Such sound policies inform the New Madison Approach (NMA), publicly described by Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Makan Delrahim in 2018.
Even as Europe and the rest of the world continued to face the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the development of 5G and other Standard Essential Patent (SEP)-enabled technology standards has continued at an unabated pace. While the year has not yet ended, more than 100,000 technical contributions have already been submitted at 3GPP meetings for 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G in 2021 – a near-record yearly contribution count. The invention and standardization of massive, complex communication technologies continues to generate significant numbers of SEPs. According to IPlytics data, the cumulative number of self-declared SEP families has surpassed 72,000 in 2021, indicating a five-fold increase in just 10 years.
This is Part II of a two-part article discussing FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) licensing developments taking place in the United States in 2021. Read Part I here. After a slow summer on the FRAND licensing front, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in the matter of HTC v. Ericsson came in the dog days of August. As we wrote about here, the August 31 ruling dealt with, amongst other things, an appeal challenging the district court’s instructions to the jury regarding whether or not the license terms offered by Ericsson were FRAND and, more specifically, with respect to the issue of apportionment. Beyond finding that the failure to give instructions on an undisputed issue did not impair HTC’s ability to present its claims, the majority found that HTC’s proposed instructions “were not ‘substantially correct’ statements of law”.