The following post comes from Wade Cribbs, a 2L at Scalia Law and a Research Assistant at CPIP. This is the second of two posts (see day one recap) summarizing our two-day 5G at the Nexus of IP, Antitrust, and Technology Leadership conference that was held online from George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School on October 7-8, 2020.
By Wade Cribbs
On October 7-8, 2020, CPIP hosted its Eighth Annual Fall Conference, 5G at the Nexus of IP, Antitrust, and Technology Leadership, online from George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia. The conference featured a keynote address by the Honorable Andrei Iancu, and it was co-hosted by Scalia Law’s National Security Institute (NSI).
This conference addressed fast-emerging intellectual property (IP), antitrust, and technology leadership issues in the 5G and “Internet of Things” innovation ecosystem. Coverage included standard-essential patents (SEPs) along with established and emerging markets on a regional and global basis. Speakers were drawn from the academic, industry, and policymaking communities, with an emphasis on using objective fact-based analysis to explore points of convergence among legal, economic, and geopolitical perspectives on the IP and regulatory infrastructures that underlie these critical industries.
SESSION 3: MARKETS WORK: PRIVATE ORDERING MECHANISMS IN PATENT-INTENSIVE MARKETS
The first panel of the day consisted of academics and industry experts discussing the path moving forward for intellectual property licensing and how it relates to 5G technology. CPIP Executive Director Sean O’Conner moderated the panel, directing a conversation on the mechanisms for controlling intellectual property licensing and the conflict between antitrust policy and private-ordering initiatives. Panelists included Prof. Jonathan Barnett of the University of Southern California, Dr. Bowman Heiden of the University of California, Berkeley, David Kappos of Cravath, Swain & Moore, and Luke McLeroy of Avanci.
Prof. Barnett opened the panel with a discussion of the difference between the theoretical models of IP licensing and the actual standard-essential patent market. According to the models, the burden of many standard-essential patents involved in developing a smartphone should cripple the smartphone market. Smartphones should cost thousands of dollars due only to the cost of royalties necessary for production. However, as Prof. Barnett pointed out, smartphones are more available than ever and at every price point. The empirical evidence confirms the theoretical models’ fears are inaccurate as the aggregate royalty burden is in the single digits.
Prof. Barnett went on to illustrate how this empirical evidence is shaping the DOJ Antitrust Division’s view of IP licensing. The fear has shifted from patent holdup, large patent royalties preventing innovation and competition, to a fear of patent holdout. Prof. Barnett explained that patent holdout is becoming common place in the market where a company’s most efficient method of obtaining an IP license is through litigation as opposed to negotiating a competitive licensing fee. Prof. Barnett concluded by suggesting that patent holdout occurs where property rights are not strong and clear. Where injunctive relief is awarded readily and aggressively to license owners, in the United Kingdom and Europe, patent holdout is not a prevalent issue.
Dr. Bowman framed the issue as an interplay between the public and private spheres. For the private sphere to produce, protection of its investment in the form of patents is necessary. The conflict is the public’s access to the private sector’s production is easily frustrated by a large number of standard-essential patents in an industry. Because access to the product is in the interest of the private sphere, the private sphere has solved its own problem. Industries require an agreement from a patent owner to license its patents on terms that are fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND). Without a FRAND agreement, a patent cannot be a standard-essential patent.
Dr. Bowman then examined the implementation of FRANDs in the wireless communication ecosystem. He argued that the inherent vagueness of FRANDs are a necessary feature as it allows for varied and customized solutions. Additionally, the public sphere, or other members of the private sphere, can obtain an advantage through antitrust authorities. However, innovation on the private side is always preferable to antitrust regulations.
Mr. Kappos began by emphasizing the need for balance between innovators and implementers. Current innovation-based standards create enormous consumer surplus, totaling nearly four trillion dollars in the wireless communication industry. He went on to say that innovation-based standards are far superior to previous proprietary, winner-take-all standards that produced limited consumer surplus.
Mr. Kappos further developed Prof. Barnett’s point about the need for injunctive relief to protect innovators. He highlighted that preliminary injunctive relief is available in other IP hubs, such as China and Germany, but that the United States has all but given up on awarding injunctive relief to innovators. In many cases, even when injunctive remedies are available, more is needed to compensate innovators for the lost opportunity, income, and effort. He then added that there needs to be a new recognition in license negotiations. Those who delay or try to avoid paying for licenses should be forced to pay a premium once they finally comply.
Mr. McLeroy discussed the nature of his licensing company Avanci. The company streamlines licensing of cellular standard-essential patents for internet connectivity in commercial products such as cars. It simplifies licensing by compacting all standard-essential licenses, from multiple patent owners, necessary for a product and offering them to companies in the industry at a flat rate. Avanci lowers the transaction costs by removing the time needed to identify the patents necessary and evaluate what the proper fee should be. This reduction in transaction costs allows the innovator to spend money that would have been spent on searching and negotiation back into research and development.
In response to a question, Mr. McLeroy discussed the way that 5G licensing will be administered. One potential method is based on usage. He compared a water meter intermittently transmitting data with autonomous cars constantly interacting with other vehicles and intersection equipment. The licensing fee for the water meter would be much lower than for the autonomous car due to the significantly lower scale of data transfer necessary to operate it.
All panelists agreed that strong and clear property rights in innovation are necessary for a productive global licensing market. Injunctive relief is also a necessary tool that must be made available to those developing innovative standard-essential patents.
SESSION 4: TECHNOLOGY LEADERSHIP IN 5G/IOT MARKETS
The second panel of the day focused on what steps should be taken to protect American leadership in the innovative technology sectors such as 5G networks. Moderator Jamil Jaffer, Founder & Executive Director of the National Security Institute (NSI), led the discussion on how the federal government can best handle the global development of 5G standards and protect American innovation from the competitive threat of China. Panelists included Megan Brown of Wiley Rain, Dr. Jonathan Putnam of Competition Dynamics, the Hon. Randall Rader of the Federal Circuit, and Andy Keiser of Navigators Global.
Dr. Putnam opened the discussion by addressing China’s patent program. Dr. Putnam described a model he created using research and development, gross national product, population, and other national indicators of inventive behavior. He noted that China subsidizes patent applications, resulting in the largest number of patents worldwide. Dr. Putnam addressed whether China has become the world leader in innovative technology. The model shows that while Chinese patent application numbers are dramatically increasing, the quality of those patents are notably lower than the rest of the world.
Dr. Putnam proposed three methods for the United States government to protect domestic interests without following the Chinese model of subsidizing innovators. First, the U.S. should unify its fractured view of antitrust on the global market. Presenting a common understanding of antitrust principles would remove a substantive fracture in U.S. foreign policy that works to China’s advantage. Second, the U.S. should take a more aggressive stance in enforcing fair trade on the world stage. There is systemic theft of foreign patent technology that must be curtailed. Third, in the pharmaceutical industry, private companies can take advantage of basic research conducted by the National Institute for Health. Applying this model to other technological sectors would be beneficial for American innovation as basic research is the foundation for most innovation.
Judge Rader agreed with Dr. Putnam that a large quantity of inferior patents is produced by China. However, Judge Rader distinguished the average patent seeker from the Chinese mega-corporations such as Huawei that produce innovation technology. Chinese mega-corporations are like American innovation leaders such as Qualcomm. Judge Rader explained that China built its platform out of subsidies in the past, but currently individual companies like Huawei devote large percentages of their gross budget to research and development that makes China a competitive innovator. China cannot be dismissed as a competitor built on unfair advantage. Instead, he urged, China must be confronted as an innovative equal that is willing to spend and supply the technology of the future.
Mr. Keiser identified China’s unique control over its market through tariffs, credit, and market manipulation. Unlike any other economy of similar size, its unique control positions China perfectly to advance its interests in innovation. Given that China is the United States’ biggest geopolitical competitor, China poses a serious threat to national security. Mr. Keiser pushed back against Judge Rader’s equal competitor view of China. He cited cases from both the United States and Poland where Huawei was found to have committed espionage and theft of competitors’ patents. Regardless of how China arrived at its current state, he said that Chinese 5G networks are not trustworthy due to consistent exploitation of foreign patents.
Ms. Brown voiced her concerns regarding the impulse to respond to China’s action by nationalizing 5G. She suggested optimizing regulation by removing the fragmented regime currently impeding innovation. The hands-off approach of Congress has facilitated longstanding U.S. leadership in innovation, and unprecedented congressional involvement would only harm American innovators. Ms. Brown framed Mr. Keiser’s point about the trustworthiness of Chinese 5G equipment and networks as a question of government intervention. Assuming these networks cannot be trusted, she asked how much the government should intervene to address the problem. In response to Dr. Putnam’s proposal of government-subsidized basic research, Ms. Brown argued that the focus should be real-world research and development with telecommunication carriers.
Ms. Brown warned that, specifically relating to 5G standard setting, the government must be careful to expend influence in its natural spheres. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is a private sector, global body that leads the development of standards in 5G technology. As a global private sector organization, the federal government, in the form of the Department of Defense, has no business influencing 3GPP policy. If any government activity is warranted, she continued, it should incentivize more private American businesses to participate in and influence private organizations like 3GPP.
All the panelists agreed that the focus should be on American policy promoting domestic innovation as opposed to overreacting to the imposing threat of China. Foremost on policy makers minds must be preserving and promoting innovation from garage inventors to Qualcomm. However, Mr. Keiser stated that the scale of theft of intellectual property by China is too large to be ignored. Congressional protection in the form of laws such as the CHIPS Act, a bill to incentivize and subsidize research into semiconductors, is necessary.
CPIP Executive Director Sean O’Connor and CPIP Deputy Director Joshua Kresh closed out the two-day conference by thanking all of the moderators, panelists, and attendees for making the conference such a huge success. They also thanked CPIP staff members, including Kristina Pietro, Devlin Hartline, and Mary Clare Durel, for working behind the scenes and the generous sponsors of the conference whose financial support made it possible.