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THE LATEST: Non-Infringement of a Patent Also Not an Antitrust Injury

WHAT HAPPENED:
  • Wading into the merging streams of antitrust and patents, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld dismissal of an antitrust suit where a jury verdict in a parallel case found no patent infringement. Cascades Computer Innovation, LLC v. RPX Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Case No. 16-15782 (9th Cir., December 11, 2017).
  • Cascades Computer Innovation is a non-practicing entity that owns a series of 38 patents (collectively known as the Elbrus portfolio) allegedly used to optimize Android devices. Cascades intended to license these patents for use by companies including Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG Electronics, Dell and RPX (a defensive patent aggregator that purchases patents on behalf of subscriber organizations using membership fees). An agreement couldn’t be reached. Cascades alleged this lack of agreement was due to a conspiracy between the defendants, using RPX, to not seek licenses for use of these patents—an agreement in violation of antitrust law.
  • Cascades filed two related lawsuits against Samsung, Motorola, HTC and others in separate district courts with separate causes of action. In Illinois, Cascades’ claim rested on patent infringement. Although the entire Elbrus portfolio was referenced in the complaint, the court determined only one patent, referred to by the court as “the ‘750 patent,” was truly at issue. Cascades asserted that merely installing the Android mobile device operating system resulted in an infringement of this patent. In California, Cascades relied on antitrust law arguing the agreement between defendants not to purchase licenses amounted to a violation. Again, the ‘750 patent was primarily at issue. Thus, Cascades simultaneously argued that a group of companies infringed on their patent and also that those companies illegally conspired to refuse to obtain licenses for use of that patent.
  • A jury in Illinois determined there was no patent infringement, which undercut Cascades’ argument in California. Without any infringement, the court in California noted “[o]nly those who possess antitrust standing by virtue of having suffered antitrust injury may bring a private action for damages for violation of the antitrust laws” before ruling for the defendants on a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The California court reasoned that in order to show antitrust injury, there must be harm to competition, not any particular competitor. The court reasoned that a “failure to license a non-infringed patent typically cannot serve as the basis for a cognizable antitrust injury.” Because Cascades’ entire theory of injury was based upon ongoing infringement of the ‘750 patent, and not on any potential, unalleged future infringement, there was no antitrust injury in the case.
  • On appeal, the 9th Circuit determined the district court “properly recognized the preclusive effect of [the Illinois decision] and correctly reasoned that because the defendants did not infringe the ‘750 patent, Cascades’ failure to license the patent was not a cognizable antitrust injury.” In a footnote, the panel explained, “[h]ere, the defendants were not infringing the valid patent; therefore, they were not using the invention. Thus, the failure to license had no effect [...]

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Higher Mitigation of Fines Due to Prompt Implementation of Measures Addressing Authority’s Concerns in Unfair Commercial Practices Investigations

In a decision published on 10 February 2017, imposing Samsung Electronics Italia S.p.A. (“Samsung”) fines totaling € 3.1 million for alleged aggressive unfair commercial practices, the Italian Competition Authority (the “Authority”) confirmed that the prompt implementation of measures aimed at addressing its concerns regarding alleged unfair commercial practices leads to a higher mitigation of the fine.

According to the Authority, Samsung would have: (i) provided consumers with incomplete and misleading information on the terms and conditions of the promotions; and (ii) forced consumers to provide their consent to the processing of their personal data for marketing purposes, as a condition to obtain the premiums related to the purchase of the product. In setting the amount of the fine, the Authority took into account the measures implemented by Samsung before and after the beginning of the proceeding. Indeed, in relation to the second allegation, the Authority considered the importance of the measures implemented before the opening of the proceeding and granted a significant reduction of the fine (25%). In relation to the first conduct, the Authority granted a lower reduction of the fine (15%), given that the measures aimed at addressing its concerns were adopted only after the opening of the investigation.

On 4 May 2016, the Authority opened the investigation following several complaints received from consumers and consumers’ associations. In particular, Samsung would have used claims aimed at promoting prize-giving events without providing consumers with all relevant information and using a font style, which would have been too small or difficult to read. The Authority also considered that the access to promotions’ rules in each point of sales or through the website was not sufficient in order to overcome this lack of information. Furthermore, as mentioned above, according to the Authority, Samsung would have forced consumers to provide their consent to the processing of personal data for purposes other than the ones necessary for obtaining the premium. During the proceeding, Samsung voluntarily submitted and implemented measures aimed at improving consumers’ awareness on the terms and conditions of the promotions. These measures included simplification of consumers’ involvement in prize-giving events, verification of consumers’ satisfaction, improvement of systems aimed at monitoring whether employees would effectively provide all the relevant information to consumers, streamline procedures for obtaining the premium, a more efficient handling of consumers’ complaints. Furthermore, Samsung also submitted that it had implemented other measures aimed at addressing the concerns related to the provision of the customers’ consent for the processing of their personal data. The Authority fined Samsung of € 3.1 million for alleged unfair commercial practices consisting of aggressive and misleading promotions related to the purchase of smartphone, smart TV and other Samsung’s products. However, in the calculation of the fine, the Authority acknowledged the relevance of the above mentioned measures granting a significant reduction of the applicable fine.

Gabriele Giunta (Trainee) contributed to this blog post.




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