In a December 7 speech before the Berkeley-Stanford Advanced Patent Law Institute, the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim (AAG Delrahim) announced that the DOJ will withdraw its assent to the 2013 Policy Statement on Remedies for Standards-Essential Patents Subject to Voluntary FRAND Commitments (the Policy Statement) and elaborated upon the DOJ’s enforcement approach to standard setting organizations (SSOs).

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • AAG Delrahim voiced support for the right of patent holders to seek injunctions against misuses of their technologies. According to AAG Delrahim, the appropriate test for injunctive relief in patent cases is the one articulated by the US Supreme Court in eBay v. MercExchange. Under the eBay standard, to obtain an injunction, a patent holder must demonstrate that:
    • It has suffered an irreparable injury;
    • Remedies available at law, such as monetary damages, are inadequate to compensate for that injury;
    • Considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, a remedy in equity is warranted; and
    • The public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction.
  • AAG Delrahim expressed concern that the Policy Statement, which in his view suggests that injunctions may not serve the public interest, may bias courts applying the eBay test against issuing injunctions. Because AAG Delrahim’s stance is that injunctions frequently do serve the public interest, he is worried that the Policy Statement will cause confusion. Based on this worry and AAG Delrahim’s disagreement with the Policy Statement’s position, the DOJ will withdraw its assent to the Policy Statement.
  • AAG Delrahim also elaborated upon his concerns with SSOs. He explained that an SSO can act anti-competitively in carrying out two tasks. First, an SSO can act anti-competitively while carrying out the standard setting process (g., by refusing to license a new and innovative technology by a maverick firm that the members of the SSO view as threatening). Second, an SSO can act anti-competitively in adopting and implementing patent policies (e.g., by adopting licensing terms that favor implementers over patent holders).

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • Though the DOJ is withdrawing its assent to the Policy Statement, it will attempt to replace it with a new one. AAG Delrahim said that the DOJ will engage the Patent Office to initiate this process. The DOJ is likely to push for language more favorable to standard essential patent holders seeking injunctions.
  • The withdrawal of the Policy Statement may affect patent cases not only before federal district courts, but also before the International Trade Commission (ITC). The Policy Statement was designed to inform the ITC, as well as federal courts, on the appropriateness of issuing an exclusion order in patent cases.
  • Delrahim announced two policies the DOJ will adopt with respect to SSOs. First, the DOJ will investigate and bring enforcement actions against standard setting practices that are anticompetitive. Second, the DOJ will embrace a policy of encouraging competition between SSOs. As part of the policy, the DOJ may, for example, scrutinize competitors for coordinating a group boycott of an SSO with a patent policy that is unfavorable to their interests.
  • The speech was consistent with AAG Delrahim’s previously voiced support of standard essential patent holders and concerns about SSOs. While under AAG Delrahim’s leadership, the DOJ’s enforcement posture will likely align with his views.

The Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a business review letter stating that it would not challenge the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.’s (IEEE’s) proposed revisions to its patent policy. These patent policy revisions seek to address the “wide divergence” in expectations between holders of patents essential to an IEEE standard and the market participants seeking to implement such standards. The DOJ’s response looked favorably on the IEEE’s proposed revisions pertaining to RAND royalties and limitations on injunctive relief for standard-essential patent holders.

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by William Diaz

The head of the United States Department of Justices’s (DOJ) Antitrust Division, Christine Varney, gave a speech to the Chamber of Commerce on June 24, 2011.  One of the topics she discussed involved IP/antitrust issues regarding standard-setting organizations (SSOs).  Provided below is the excerpt from her remarks dealing with this topic.  While her remarks do not signify a change in the way the DOJ analyzes SSOs, they serve as a reminder that the DOJ is vigilant of anticompetitive practices related to standard-setting.

Christine Varney’s Remarks on SSOs:

One issue that arises in the context of civil non-merger enforcement, and which I understand is of considerable interest to the business community, is the application of the antitrust laws to standard setting.  I have examined standard setting since my days as a Federal Trade Commissioner, when I voted to challenge Dell Computer Corporation’s anticompetitive conduct in a Standard Setting Organization (SSO).  The FTC alleged that Dell—as a member of an SSO—restricted competition in the personal computer industry and undermined the standard-setting process by threatening to exercise undisclosed patent rights against computer companies that had adopted the standard.   In that settlement, the FTC made clear that the antitrust laws do not allow firms to commit to an open standard, and only after the standard is adopted, assert patent rights to block use of the design or increase prices.

However, if structured appropriately, standards promulgated by an SSO can be permissible under the antitrust laws. As you well know, standard setting creates enormous benefits for businesses and consumers, including reducing production costs and fostering public health and safety. The Division has expressed this support for SSOs in a joint report with the FTC, in business review letters and in speeches.

I personally support the role of standard setting in promoting innovation as long as such standards comply with the basic and fundamental principles of the antitrust laws. This requires that standards be open and published, with clear disclosure and license rules, and should be apportioned fairly and efficiently, with no company able to distort the process. In addition, standards should be limited to technical and operational functions that support individual business decisions—not thwart the competitive process by enabling collective and collusive business decisions. The best SSO framework may vary by industry, but these fundamental principles remain.

To view Christine Varney’s full comments, please click here