Letter to Antitrust Chief Applauds DOJ’s New Evidence-Based Approach to IP Enforcement

A group of judges, former judges and government officials, law professors and economists with expertise in antitrust law and patent law sent a letter to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim earlier today applauding his recent announcements that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) would now take a balanced, evidence-based approach in applying antitrust law to patent licensing, especially to patented innovations that have been contributed to technological standards.

Signatories to the letter include Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the D.C. Circuit, former Chief Judge Paul Michel of the Federal Circuit, former FTC Commissioner Joshua D. Wright, and former Director of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office David Kappos, among others.

A few weeks after his confirmation this past September, AAG Delrahim delivered remarks at a conference held at the USC Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, California. The comments signaled a major shift in intellectual property (IP) policy for the Antitrust Division from the policies pursued by the previous Obama Administration. Indeed, AAG Delrahim pointed out that he is the first head of the Antitrust Division to be a registered patent attorney, and his plans for protecting free market competition in the IP licensing realm reflected a robust understanding of what drives our innovation economy.

AAG Delrahim indicated that antitrust enforcers had “strayed too far” in protecting the interests of implementers of patented technology at the expense of innovators who create the technology in the first place. Such “misapplication of the antitrust laws,” he said, “could undermine the process of dynamic innovation itself.” In particular, AAG Delrahim stated that the recent focus on the “so-called ‘hold-up’ problem,” where innovators threaten to withhold licenses to implementers, fails to recognize the “more serious risk” of the “hold-out problem,” where implementers threaten to use the technology without taking licenses from innovators. AAG Delrahim explained that the “one-sided focus on the hold-up issue” posed a “serious threat to the innovative process.”

Last month, a group of industry representatives sent a letter to AAG Delrahim expressing concerns over the Antitrust Division’s new approach to IP licensing. The letter claimed that “patent hold-up is real, well documented, and harming US industry and consumers,” and it argued that the hold-out problem did not raise similar competition law issues. Remarkably, the industry representatives did not offer one citation to back up their broad claims about the supposed harm from “patent hold-up” or lack of harm from patent hold-out. Given the data connecting stable and effective patent rights and economic growth, the burden should be on the advocates for the “patent hold-up” theory to produce at least some evidence to support their position. Thankfully, AAG Delrahim made clear that he will let the evidence be his guide.

To that end, the letter submitted today by judges, government officials, legal academics, and economists points out the glaring omissions in the letter by the industry representatives: The claims about “patent hold-up” are merely theoretical, and they are “inconsistent with actual market data.” Moreover, today’s letter notes that the implications of the “patent hold-up” theory are testable, and that the empirical studies to date have failed to show that innovators are harming consumers or inhibiting innovation. To bolster its claims, the letter includes an appendix of rigorous empirical studies that directly contradict the “patent hold-up” theory proffered by the industry representatives.

Read the letter below or download it here: Letter to AAG Delrahim

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February 13, 2018

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim
Department of Justice Antitrust Division
950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Assistant Attorney General Delrahim,

As judges, former judges and government officials, legal academics and economists who are experts in antitrust and intellectual property law, we write to express our support for your recent announcement that the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice will adopt an evidence-based approach in applying antitrust law equally to both innovators who develop and implementers who use technological standards in the innovation industries.

We disagree with the letter recently submitted to you on January 24, 2018 by other parties who expressed their misgivings with your announcement of your plan to return to this sound antitrust policy. Unfortunately, their January 24 letter perpetuates the long-standing misunderstanding held by some academics, policy activists, and companies, who baldly assert that one-sided “patent holdup” is a real-world problem in the high-tech industries. This claim rests entirely on questionable models that predict that opportunistic behavior in patent licensing transactions will result in higher consumer prices. These predictions are inconsistent with actual market data in any high-tech industry.

It bears emphasizing that no empirical study has demonstrated that a patent-owner’s request for injunctive relief after a finding of a defendant’s infringement of its property rights has ever resulted either in consumer harm or in slowing down the pace of technological innovation. Given the well understood role that innovation plays in facilitating economic growth and well-being, a heavy burden of proof rests on those who insist on the centrality of “patent holdup” to offer some tangible support for that view, which they have ultimately failed to supply in the decade or more since that theory was first propounded. Given the contrary conclusions in economic studies of the past decade, there is no sound empirical basis for claims of a systematic problem of opportunistic “patent holdup” by owners of patents on technological standards.

Several empirical studies demonstrate that the observed pattern in high-tech industries, especially in the smartphone industry, is one of constant lower quality-adjusted prices, increased entry and competition, and higher performance standards. These robust findings all contradict the testable implications of “patent holdup” theory. The best explanation for this disconnect between the flawed “patent holdup” theory and overwhelming weight of the evidence lies in the institutional features that surround industry licensing practices. These practices include bilateral licensing negotiations, and the reputation effects in long-term standards activities. Both support a feed-back mechanism that creates a system of natural checks and balances in the setting of royalty rates. The simplistic models of “patent holdup” ignore all these moderating effects.

Of even greater concern are the likely negative social welfare consequences of prior antitrust policies implemented based upon nothing more than the purely theoretical concern about opportunistic “patent holdup” behavior by owners of patented innovations incorporated into technological standards. For example, those policies have resulted in demands to set royalty rates for technologies incorporated into standards in the smartphone industry according to particular components in a smartphone. This was a change to the longstanding industry practice of licensing at the end-user device level, which recognized that fundamental technologies incorporated into the cellular standards like 2G, 3G, etc., optimize the entire wireless system and network, and not just the specific chip or component of a chip inside a device.

In support, we attach an Appendix of articles identifying the numerous substantive and methodological flaws in the “patent holdup” models. We also point to rigorous empirical studies that all directly contradict the predictions of the “patent holdup” theory.

For these reasons, we welcome your announcement of a much-needed return to evidence-based policy making by antitrust authorities concerning the licensing and enforcement of patented innovations that have been committed to a technological standard. This sound program ensures balanced protection of all innovators, implementers, and consumers. We are confident that consistent application of this program will lead to a vibrant, dynamic smartphone market that depends on a complex web of standard essential patents which will continue to benefit everyone throughout the world.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Barnett
Professor of Law
USC Gould School of Law

Ronald A. Cass
Dean Emeritus,
Boston University School of Law
Former Vice-Chairman and Commissioner,
United States International Trade Commission

Richard A. Epstein
Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law,
New York University School of Law
James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law Emeritus,
University of Chicago Law School

The Honorable Douglas H. Ginsburg
Senior Circuit Judge,
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and
Professor of Law,
Antonin Scalia Law School
George Mason University

Justin (Gus) Hurwitz
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Nebraska College of Law

David J. Kappos
Former Under Secretary of Commerce and Director
United States Patent & Trademark Office

The Honorable Paul Michel
Chief Judge (Ret.),
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Adam Mossoff
Professor of Law
Antonin Scalia Law School
George Mason University

Kristen Osenga
Professor of Law
University of Richmond School of Law

David J. Teece
Thomas W. Tusher Professor in Global Business
Haas School of Business
University of California at Berkeley

Joshua D. Wright
University Professor,
Antonin Scalia Law School
George Mason University
Former Commissioner,
Federal Trade Commission

Appendix

Richard A. Epstein & Kayvan Noroozi, Why Incentives for Patent Hold Out Threaten to Dismantle FRAND and Why It Matters, Berkeley Tech. L. Rev. (forthcoming), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2913105

Anne Layne-Farrar, Why Patent Holdout is Not Just a Fancy Name for Plain Old Patent Infringement, CPI North American Column (Feb. 2016), https://www.competitionpolicyinternational.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/North-America-Column-February-Full.pdf

Anne Layne-Farrar, Patent Holdup and Royalty Stacking Theory and Evidence: Where Do We Stand After 15 Years of History?, OECD Intellectual Property and Standard Setting (Nov. 18, 2014), http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=DAF/COMP/WD%282014%2984&doclanguage=en

Alexander Galetovic & Stephen Haber, The Fallacies of Patent Holdup Theory, 13 J. Comp. L. & Econ., 1 (2017), https://academic.oup.com/jcle/article/13/1/1/3060409

Alexander Galetovic, Stephen Haber, & Lew Zaretzki, An Estimate of the Average Cumulative Royalty Yield in the World Mobile Phone Industry: Theory, Measurement and Results (Feb. 7, 2018), https://hooverip2.org/working-paper/wp18005

Alexander Galetovic, Stephen Haber, & Ross Levine, An Empirical Examination of Patent Hold-Up (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Research, Working Paper No. 21090, 2015), http://www.nber.org/papers/w21090.pdf

Douglas H. Ginsburg, Koren W. Wong-Ervin, & Joshua Wright, The Troubling Use of Antitrust to Regulate FRAND Licensing, CPI Antitrust Chronicle (Oct. 2015), https://www.competitionpolicyinternational.com/assets/Uploads/GinsburgetalOct-151.pdf

Douglas H. Ginsburg, Taylor M. Ownings, & Joshua D. Wright, Enjoining Injunctions: The Case Against Antitrust Liability for Standard Essential Patent Holders Who Seek Injunctions, The Antitrust Source (Oct. 2014), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2515949

Gerard Llobet & Jorge Padilla, The Optimal Scope of the Royalty Base in Patent Licensing, 59 J. L. & Econ. 45 (2016), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2417216

Keith Mallinson, Theories of Harm with SEP Licensing Do Not Stack Up, IP Fin. Blog (May 24, 2013), http://www.ip.finance/2013/05/theories-of-harm-with-sep-licensing-do.html

Jorge Padilla & Koren W. Wong-Ervin, Portfolio Licensing to Makers of Downstream End-User Devices: Analyzing Refusals to License FRAND-Assured Standard-Essential Patents at the Component Level, 62 The Antitrust Bulletin 494 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1177/0003603X17719762

Jonathan D. Putnam & Tim A. Williams, The Smallest Salable Patent-Practicing Unit (SSPPU): Theory and Evidence (Sept. 2016), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2835617

Gregory Sidak, The Antitrust Division’s Devaluation of Standard-Essential Patents, 104 Geo. L.J. Online 48 (2015), https://georgetownlawjournal.org/articles/161/antitrust-division-s-devaluation-of/pdf

Joanna Tsai & Joshua D. Wright, Standard Setting, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Role of Antitrust in Regulating Incomplete Contracts, 80 Antitrust L.J. 157 (2015), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2467939

Joshua D. Wright, SSOs, FRAND, and Antitrust: Lessons from the Economics of Incomplete Contracts, 21 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 791 (2014), http://www.georgemasonlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Wright-Website-Version.pdf