In March 2015, IEEE significantly amended its patent policy in what was couched as an "update" but that seeks to significantly revise commitments from parties holding patent claims essential to IEEE standards to license those rights on reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms. Changes disallow patent holders from receiving any value attributable to the standards, require licensing at the smallest saleable patent practicing unit level, and deny these rights holders entitlement to seek an injunction against an unlicensed implementer until appellate review is exhausted. IEEE’s stated objective was to protect implementers from patent holdup, which was alleged without any substantiation. IEEE is promoting, by reducing technology licensing costs, the short-term interests of certain implementers while undermining standard-essential patent values and the ability of SEP owners to receive adequate compensation, they are entitled to, from licensing their SEPs.
I participated as a panelist in a session entitled, "Economists: Do They Have a Place?," at the Patents in Telecoms and the Internet of Things conference at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on November 10, 2017. This article is substantially my remarks in that conference panel session. Before my remarks, Stephen Haber of Stanford University said that I had posed the defining question for the entire conference in an audience question-and-answer exchange the previous day. It had perturbed me to hear a panel speaker mischaracterize the communications standards as platforms of preexisting technologies upon which Internet of Things (IoT) innovation will occur. In response, I said that communications standards are rich in technology innovation and patented intellectual property.
Under what conditions may the holder of standard-essential patents (SEPs) seek to enjoin an infringing implementer without breaching the SEP holder's contract with the standard-setting organization (SSO) to provide access to those SEPs on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms? I show that the SEP holder's contractual obligations still permit it to seek an injunction. A FRAND commitment requires the SEP holder to offer a license for the SEPs on FRAND terms (or otherwise to grant implementers access to the SEPs). Extending an offer containing a price within the FRAND range discharges the SEP holder's contractual obligation.
Royalty arrangements within patent licenses have long been constrained by an almost 50 year old Supreme Court decision in Brulotte v. Thys Co that prevents collection of royalties after a patent has expired. The Justices have now agreed to revisit the precedent set by that often-criticized ruling in a current case, Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc.
Mark Lemley and Carl Shapiro propose that standard-setting organizations (SSOs) mandate that their members henceforth submit to binding, final-offer arbitration (commonly called "baseball arbitration") to set fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) royalties in licensing disputes concerning standard-essential patents (SEPs). SSOs should reject this proposal. It does not rest on sufficient facts or data, nor does it apply intellectually rigorous principles and methods of law and economics in a reliable manner. This is not to say that the voluntary use of arbitration to resolve FRAND licensing disputes is inherently problematic. However, the incremental efficiency that Lemley and Shapiro claim that their proposal would achieve over litigation or conventional commercial arbitration is illusory. For one, it is much harder to value a portfolio of SEPs over the span of five years than to value an individual baseball player for a single season.
What does it mean for a patent holder to commit to a standard-setting organization (SSO) to license its standard-essential patents (SEPs) on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) terms? When is a royalty FRAND? Drawing from both legal theory and economic theory, I propose an interpretation of FRAND that distinguishes and reconciles the conflicting definitions of FRANDand provides courts a practical approach to identifying FRAND royalties
The importance of software patents has increased dramatically in recent years. The high profile patent disputes between Apple, Google, and other smartphone companies have attracted the most attention in the press, but patent battles are being waged all across the software industry.