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Texas Court Declares Licensing Offer Based on End Device Is FRAND, Diverges from California Court in Qualcomm

Standard-essential patent holders and implementers may face uncertainty regarding licensing practices following a May 23 Texas court ruling. In the ruling, a Texas federal judge reached a conclusion different from a recent California court decision—FTC v. Qualcomm—on the question of whether an SEP holder must base its royalty rates on the “smallest salable patent-practicing unit” in order to comply with a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory royalty commitment.

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Ninth Circuit is the First Appeals Court to Rule on RAND/SEP Licensing

Introduction

In a decision written by Judge Marsha S. Berzon, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appels for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a first-of-its-kind district court judgment relating to royalty rates for standard-essential patents (SEP). As part of the standard setting process, many standards organizations require members who hold patents necessary to implement a given standard to commit to license those patents on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (RAND). Because inclusion in a standard can increase the importance and value of a patent, parties often differ on what constitutes a reasonable royalty. In this case, district court Judge James Robarts of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington established a multi-factor framework to determine the appropriate royalty rates and ranges for SEPs. Several other courts later employed similar approaches. Motorola’s appeal challenged the district court’s authority to determine the royalty rate at a bench trial. The company also contended that the district court mis-applied Federal Circuit precedent on patent damages. The Ninth Circuit rejected these arguments, finding that Motorola had consented to the bench trial and holding that Judge Robart’s “thoughtful and detailed analysis” was “consistent with the Federal Circuit’s recent approach.” Microsoft Corp. v, Motorola, Inc. et al; Case No 14-35393 (9th Cir, July 30, 2015) (Berzon, J.)

Procedural Background

The long-running patent dispute between Microsoft and Motorola spans several courts and countries. The crux of the conflict traces back to October 2010 when Microsoft sued Motorola for alleged infringement of certain smartphone patents. Thereafter, the parties explored a possible cross-licensing arrangement to resolve their dispute. Motorola sent letters proposing licenses for 802.11 and H.264 SEP portfolios, with a proposed royalty rate of 2.25 percent of the price of the end product, which Motorola represented was in keeping with its RAND commitments on the patents. Microsoft disagreed. Soon after, it filed suit in the Western District of Washington, alleging that Motorola had breached its RAND commitments to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the standard-setting organizations that developed the 802.11 and H.264 standards. Motorola responded by filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, seeking an injunction to prevent Microsoft from using its H.264 patents. The cases were consolidated before Judge Robart in the Western District of Washington. Motorola also brought patent-enforcement actions before the International Trade Commission and in Germany. Microsoft alleged in an amended complaint that the filing of these injunctive orders constituted a breach of contract on the grounds that a RAND commitment bars a patent holder from seeking injunctive relief.

The proceedings before Judge Robart slowly moved forward throughout 2011 and 2012. The district court held that the RAND commitment made by Motorola to the standard-setting organizations created an enforceable contract, which standard users like Microsoft are able to enforce as third-party beneficiaries. Judge Robart determined, however, that, in order for a jury to determine whether Motorola had breached its RAND commitment, it must first know what the [...]

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Western District of Washington Sets FRAND Royalty Rates and Range for SEPs

by Nick Grimmer and Stefan Meisner

Last week in Microsoft v. Motorola, the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington became the first U.S. court to set fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND or RAND) royalty rates and range for standard-essential patents (SEPs).  See Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Microsoft v. Motorola, 2:10-cv-01823-JLR (W.D. Wash. Apr. 25, 2013). The suit stems from Microsoft’s allegation that Motorola’s offers to license certain Wi-Fi and video compression SEPs was too high and therefore violated Motorola’s contractual RAND commitments.   This issue is arising with greater frequency in antitrust/IP matters when patent licensing is involved with licensors who are standards setting organizations as well.

Microsoft v. Motorola is important because it is the first thoroughly reasoned decision by a U.S. federal district court that developed a framework for courts to assess FRAND terms for SEPs.  In setting forth the basic principles at issue, the court stated that “a RAND commitment should be interpreted to limit a patent holder to a reasonable royalty on the economic value of its patented technology itself, apart from the value associated with incorporation of the patented technology into the standard.” Id. at 25-26.  So, the court focused its analysis on its conclusion that “the parties in a hypothetical negotiation would set RAND royalty rates by looking at the importance of the SEPs to the standard and the importance of the standard and the SEPs to the products at issue.” Id. at 7.  The court’s analysis employed a modified-version of the Georgia-Pacific factors, which courts use to calculate “reasonable royalty” damages in patent infringement actions.  Of note, the court modified the first Georgia-Pacific factor (the royalties received by the patentee for the patent(s) at issue) to include consideration only of certain types of royalties, i.e., those “comparable to RAND licensing circumstances,” including both “license agreements where the parties clearly understood the RAND obligation, and … patent pools.” Id. at 35-36 (emphasis added).  Another of the court’s noteworthy modifications to the Georgia-Pacific factors is that the fourth factor (the licensor’s policy and marketing program to maintain its patent monopoly via selective licensing), “is inapplicable in the RAND context because the licensor has made a commitment to license on RAND terms and may no longer maintain a patent monopoly by not licensing to others.”  Id. at 36.  Finally, as relates to the final factor (a hypothetical negotiation), the court concluded that “reasonable parties in search of a reasonable royalty rate under the RAND commitment would consider the fact that, to induce the creation of valuable standards, the RAND commitment must guarantee that holders of valuable intellectual property will receive reasonable royalties on that property.” Id. at 40.

Concluding that several of Motorola’s patents provided only minimal contribution to the standards and played only minor importance in the overall functionality of some of Microsoft’s products, and that the characteristics of a similar patent pool (of which Microsoft and Google, Motorola’s parent, are members) “closely align with all of the purposes of [...]

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