is an Antitrust, Competition, and Trade Regulation associate in the Washington office of Hogan Lovells, where he focuses his practice on antitrust litigation, merger review, and government investigations before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
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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.
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.