Friday, 11 October 2019

A Greater Appreciation for the Contribution and Value of Some Intangibles (particularly "free" intangibles)?

In a recent speech titled, “Trucks and Terabytes: Integrating the 'Old' and 'New' Economies,” at the 61st Annual Meeting of the National Association for Business Economics, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell challenged the underlying data concerning measurements of economic growth.  He asks: “with terabytes of data increasingly competing with truckloads of goods in economic importance, what are the best ways to measure output and productivity? Put more provocatively, might the recent productivity slowdown be an artifact of antiquated measurement?”  In considering the question, here are his comments: 


How Should We Measure Output and Productivity?
Let's now turn to the second question of how to best measure output and productivity. While there are some subtleties in measuring oil output, we know how to count barrels of oil. Measuring the overall level of goods and services produced in the economy is fundamentally messier, because it requires adding apples and oranges—and automobiles and myriad other goods and services. The hard-working statisticians creating the official statistics regularly adapt the data sources and methods so that, insofar as possible, the measured data provide accurate indicators of the state of the economy. Periods of rapid change present particular challenges, and it can take time for the measurement system to adapt to fully and accurately reflect the changes in the economy.

The advance of technology has long presented measurement challenges. In 1987, Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Solow quipped that "you can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics."6 In the second half of the 1990s, this measurement puzzle was at the heart of monetary policymaking.7 Chairman Alan Greenspan famously argued that the United States was experiencing the dawn of a new economy, and that potential and actual output were likely understated in official statistics. Where others saw capacity constraints and incipient inflation, Greenspan saw a productivity boom that would leave room for very low unemployment without inflation pressures. In light of the uncertainty it faced, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) judged that the appropriate risk‑management approach called for refraining from interest rate increases unless and until there were clearer signs of rising inflation. Under this policy, unemployment fell near record lows without rising inflation, and later revisions to GDP measurement showed appreciably faster productivity growth.8

This episode illustrates a key challenge to making data-dependent policy in real time: Good decisions require good data, but the data in hand are seldom as good as we would like. Sound decisionmaking therefore requires the application of good judgment and a healthy dose of risk management.

Productivity is again presenting a puzzle. Official statistics currently show productivity growth slowing significantly in recent years, with the growth in output per hour worked falling from more than 3 percent a year from 1995 to 2003 to less than half that pace since then.9 Analysts are actively debating three alternative explanations for this apparent slowdown: First, the slowdown may be real and may persist indefinitely as productivity growth returns to more‑normal levels after a brief golden age.10 Second, the slowdown may instead be a pause of the sort that often accompanies fundamental technological change, so that productivity gains from recent technology advances will appear over time as society adjusts.11 Third, the slowdown may be overstated, perhaps greatly, because of measurement issues akin to those at work in the 1990s.12 At this point, we cannot know which of these views may gain widespread acceptance, and monetary policy will play no significant role in how this puzzle is resolved. As in the late 1990s, however, we are carefully assessing the implications of possibly mismeasured productivity gains. Moreover, productivity growth seems to have moved up over the past year after a long period at very low levels; we do not know whether that welcome trend will be sustained.

Recent research suggests that current official statistics may understate productivity growth by missing a significant part of the growing value we derive from fast internet connections and smartphones. These technologies, which were just emerging 15 years ago, are now ubiquitous (figure 3). We can now be constantly connected to the accumulated knowledge of humankind and receive near instantaneous updates on the lives of friends far and wide. And, adding to the measurement challenge, many of these services are free, which is to say, not explicitly priced. How should we value the luxury of never needing to ask for directions? Or the peace and tranquility afforded by speedy resolution of those contentious arguments over the trivia of the moment?

Researchers have tried to answer these questions in various ways.13 For example, Fed researchers have recently proposed a novel approach to measuring the value of services consumers derive from cellphones and other devices based on the volume of data flowing over those connections.14 Taking their accounting at face value, GDP growth would have been about 1/2 percentage point higher since 2007, which is an appreciable change and would be very good news. Growth over the previous couple of decades would also have been about 1/4 percentage point higher as well, implying that measurement issues of this sort likely account for only part of the productivity slowdown in current statistics. Research in this area is at an early stage, but this example illustrates the depth of analysis supporting our data-dependent decisionmaking.

The full speech is available, here.  The paper concerning measuring value using volume of data, titled, "Accounting for Innovations in Consumer Digital Services: IT Still Matters," is available, here.  

OxFirst Webinar featuring Professor Peter George Picht: "Injunctions in SEP/Frand Cases"


Our friends at OxFirst have another interesting free webinar titled, “Injunctions in SEP/Frand Cases,” scheduled for October 24, 2019, starting at 16:00 BST (14:00 CET).  The speaker is Professor Peter George Picht.  Here is his bio: 


Prof Peter Georg Picht studied law at Munich University and Yale Law School, did his PhD (summa cum laude) at Munich University/the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, and holds a masters degree from Yale Law School.

He has been working, i.a., with the EU Commission’s DG for Competition, as a Senior Research Fellow with the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, as well as with two international law firms.

Prof. Picht now holds a chair for Economic Law at the University of Zurich and is head of the University’s Center for Intellectual Property and Competition Law (CIPCO). He remains affiliated to the Max Planck Institute as a Research Fellow and is an Of Counsel with the law firm Schellenberg Wittmer. His further affiliations include board memberships in the Academic Society for Competition Law (ASCOLA), the Association Européenne du Droit Èconomique (AIDE), and the Munich IP Dispute Resolution Forum. In 2019, he will be a Visiting Professor at King’s College, London.

Prof. Picht’s academic teaching and writing, as well as his counseling activity, focus on

· intellectual property law

· competition law

· international private and procedural law, in particular commercial arbitration (mainly IP and Competition), trusts and estates.

In these fields, he advises governments, companies, foundations, trusts, as well as private persons and families. Prof. Picht is admitted to the bar in Germany and Switzerland (Art. 28 BGFA).

For further information, see:

http://www.rwi.uzh.ch/de/lehreforschung/alphabetisch/picht/person.html

https://www.rwi.uzh.ch/de/oe/cipco.html

Here is a link to register: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2194048367188788236, and here are the details concerning registration: 


Attention, please sign up with your professional email account. We don’t accept registrations from personal email addresses. Participation is limited at 100 participants. We reserve the right to eliminate participants.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

US Treasury Department CFIUS Proposed Regulations Released


The U.S. Treasury Department has recently issued new regulations for review concerning the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).  CFIUS reviews transactions implicating national security concerns.  The Fact Sheet concerning the new proposed regulations from the U.S. Treasury Department states: 


FIRRMA Provisions on Non-Controlling Investments

FIRRMA expands CFIUS’s jurisdiction beyond transactions that could result in foreign control of a U.S. business to also include a non-controlling investment, direct or indirect, by a foreign person that affords the foreign person: 

access to any material nonpublic technical information in the possession of the U.S. business;  membership or observer rights on the board of directors or equivalent governing body of the U.S. business or the right to nominate an individual to a position on the board of directors or equivalent governing body; or any involvement, other than through voting of shares, in substantive decisionmaking of the U.S. business regarding— the use, development, acquisition, safekeeping, or release of sensitive personal data of U.S. citizens maintained or collected by the U.S. business; the use, development, acquisition, or release of critical technologies; or the management, operation, manufacture, or supply of critical infrastructure.  

This new authority only applies to a non-controlling investment in a U.S. business that:  produces, designs, tests, manufactures, fabricates, or develops one or more critical technologies;   owns, operates, manufactures, supplies, or services critical infrastructure; or maintains or collects sensitive personal data of U.S. citizens that may be exploited in a manner that threatens national security.

FIRRMA also requires that CFIUS prescribe regulations that further define the term “foreign person” in the context of non-controlling investments by specifying criteria to limit its applicability over certain categories of foreign persons.

Key Aspects of the Proposed Regulations Regarding “Covered Investments”

Types of investments covered:  Non-controlling investments that afford a foreign person certain access, rights, or involvement in certain U.S. businesses (referred to as “covered investments”).

Largely a voluntary process:  Process remains largely voluntary, where parties may file a notice or submit a short-form declaration notifying CFIUS of a covered investment in order to receive a potential “safe harbor” letter (after which CFIUS does not initiate a review of a transaction except in certain limited circumstances).  In some circumstances, filing a declaration for a transaction is mandatory.  In particular, FIRRMA creates a mandatory declaration requirement for specified covered transactions where a foreign government has a “substantial interest”.  Additionally, FIRRMA authorizes CFIUS to mandate declarations for covered transactions involving certain U.S. businesses that produce, design, test, manufacture, fabricate, or develop one or more critical technologies.  



U.S. businesses covered:  The new provisions on covered investments only apply to investments in U.S. businesses involved in specified ways with critical technologies, critical infrastructure, or sensitive personal data—referred to as “TID U.S. businesses” for technology, infrastructure, and data.  

 Critical technologies:  CFIUS may review transactions related to U.S. businesses that design, test, manufacture, fabricate, or develop one or more critical technologies.  “Critical technologies” is defined to include certain items subject to export controls and other existing regulatory schemes, as well as emerging and foundational technologies controlled pursuant to the Export Control Reform Act of 2018.  

 Critical infrastructure:  CFIUS may review transactions related to U.S. businesses that perform specified functions—owning, operating, manufacturing, supplying, or servicing—with respect to critical infrastructure across subsectors such as telecommunications, utilities, energy, and transportation, each as identified in an appendix to the proposed regulations.  

 Sensitive personal data:  CFIUS may review transactions related to U.S. businesses that maintain or collect sensitive personal data of U.S. citizens that may be exploited in a manner that threatens national security. “Sensitive personal data” is defined to include ten categories of data maintained or collected by U.S. businesses that (i) target or tailor products or services to sensitive populations, including U.S. military members and employees of federal agencies involved in national security, (ii) collect or maintain such data on at least one million individuals, or (iii) have a demonstrated business objective to maintain or collect such data on greater than one million individuals and such data is an integrated part of the U.S. business’s primary products or services.  The categories of data include types of financial, geolocation, and health data, among others.  Genetic information is also included in the definition regardless of whether it meets (i), (ii), or (iii).  

 Foreign person and excepted investor:  The regulations create an exception from “covered investments” for certain foreign persons defined as “excepted investors” based on their ties to certain countries identified as “excepted foreign states,” and their compliance with certain laws, orders, and regulations.  The regulations do not except these persons from control transactions previously subject to CFIUS jurisdiction; investments from all foreign persons remain subject to CFIUS’s jurisdiction over transactions that could result in foreign control of a U.S. business.

FIRRMA Provisions on Real Estate Transactions

In FIRRMA, Congress authorized CFIUS to review “the purchase or lease by, or a concession to, a foreign person of private or public real estate that”

“is, is located within, or will function as part of, an air or maritime port…” 

“is in close proximity to a United States military installation or another facility or property of the United States Government that is sensitive for reasons relating to national security;”

 “could reasonably provide the foreign person the ability to collect intelligence on activities being conducted at such an installation, facility, or property; or”

 “could otherwise expose national security activities at such an installation, facility, or property to the risk of foreign surveillance.”

 Pursuant to FIRRMA, this authority does not extend to “a single ‘housing unit.’”  This authority also does not apply to “real estate in ‘urbanized areas’ . . . except as otherwise prescribed by [CFIUS] in regulations in consultation with the Secretary of Defense.” (emphasis added)

 FIRRMA directs CFIUS to “prescribe regulations to ensure that the term “close proximity” refers only to a distance or distances within which the purchase, lease, or concession of real estate could pose a national security risk.”

 FIRRMA also requires that CFIUS prescribe regulations that further define the term “foreign person” for real estate transactions by specifying criteria to limit its applicability over certain categories of foreign persons.

The full text of the regulations is available, here

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Marijuana Banking Law


Congress is one step closer to resolving one of the very thorny issues concerning the legal marijuana business in the United States—access to banking because of its illegal status at the Federal level.  The SAFE Banking Act of 2019 has reportedly passed the U.S. House of Representatives and must then be passed by the Senate.  Of course, the bill will still have to be signed by President Trump, which may not be a sure thing.  He seems to change his mind on this issue frequently, and we are approaching an election year. There is also speculation that because of the current impeachment controversy in the Congress concerning President Trump that very little will be accomplished from a legislative perspective—that could also impact passage of patent eligible subject matter reform and drug pricing legislation.  A summary of the Safe Banking Act of 2019 states: 


This bill generally prohibits a federal banking regulator from penalizing a depository institution for providing banking services to a legitimate marijuana-related business. Specifically, the bill prohibits a federal banking regulator from (1) terminating or limiting the deposit insurance or share insurance of a depository institution solely because the institution provides financial services to a legitimate marijuana-related business; (2) prohibiting or otherwise discouraging a depository institution from offering financial services to such a business; (3) recommending, incentivizing, or encouraging a depository institution not to offer financial services to an account holder solely because the account holder is affiliated with such a business; (4) taking any adverse or corrective supervisory action on a loan made to a person solely because the person either owns such a business or owns real estate or equipment leased or sold to such a business; or (5) penalizing a depository institution for processing or collecting payments for such a business.

As specified by the bill, a depository institution shall not, under federal law, be liable or subject to forfeiture for providing a loan or other financial services to a legitimate marijuana-related business.

The bill is available, here.  I’ve previously written on this issue, here

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Oxfirst Webinar: Balance Requirements for Standard Development Organizations

Our friends at Oxfirst have another exciting webinar scheduled for October 2, 2019 at 1600 to 1700 (British Standard Time) titled, “’Balance’ Requirements for Standards Development Organizations: A Debate between Professor Contreras and Professor Larouche.”  

Here is a description of the webinar:

“Antitrust and Balance of Interests in Standards Development - Lessons from NSS Labs v. Symantec”

The recent decision of the District Court of the Northern District of California, in NSS Labs. v. Symantec sheds light on the requirement that Standard Development Organizations (SDO) achieve a balance of interests in their procedures. Whilst the court ultimately did not rule on this point, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) intervened in the case to insist – correctly in our view – that SDOs must meet that requirement in order to benefit from protection against antitrust liability under the Standard Development Organization Advancement Act (SDOAA).

Here are brief bios of the speakers: 

Professor Jorge Contreras
Jorge Contreras is a Presidential Scholar and Professor of law at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.  He holds a JD from Harvard Law School, all conferred with honors.  Prior to entering academia, Prof. Contreras was a partner in the Boston, London and Washington DC offices of the international law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. His current research focuses on intellectual property transactions, standard setting and science policy. He has edited six books and published more than 100 scholarly articles on these topics, and has received numerous awards for his scholarship and teaching. His latest books include the 2-volume edited series, The Cambridge Handbook of Technical Standardization Law (2018, 2019). He has been quoted in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Washington Post, and Korea Times, has been a guest on NPR, BBC and various televised broadcasts, and his work has been cited favorably by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, European Commission and courts in the U.S. and Europe. 

Professor Pierre Larouche

Pierre Larouche (1968) is Professor of Law and Innovation at Université de Montréal, where he is in charge of the new PhD Programme on Innovation, Science, Technology and Law. Until 2017, he was Professor of Competition Law at Tilburg University (Netherlands), where he founded and directed the Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC) and created the Bachelor Global Law. Prof. Larouche has also taught at the College of Europe (Bruges) (2004-2016), and he has been a guest professor or scholar at McGill University (2002), National University of Singapore (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013), Northwestern University (2009-2010, 2016-2017), Sciences Po (2012), the University of Pennsylvania (2015) and the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC, 2016). His research centers around economic governance, and in particular how law and regulation struggle to deal with complex phenomena such as innovation. He follows a meta-comparative and inter-disciplinary method. He currently teaches competition law, economic regulation, tort law as well as patents and trademarks.


Registration is free and available here:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5539834762562087947



And, here is some "fine print" from Oxfirst concerning registration:


"After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Attention, please sign up with your professional email account. We don’t accept registrations from personal email addresses. Participation is limited at 100 participants. We reserve the right to eliminate participants. By joining the OxFirst webinar you agree to our Privacy Policy (found here) and to receive forthcoming information on our webinars, newsletters and events."

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Going After FAANG in the United States: States Attorneys General Begin Investigation into Google

An interesting question is when do you regulate a new technology.  Do you regulate it early, potentially impeding its development?  Or, do you give it time to develop and the industry around it?  One issue with respect to waiting to regulate concerns the difficulty in doing so because of public choice issues.  The industry becomes too powerful to regulate effectively, or essentially captures the agency regulating it.  Some may argue that the United States, through the federal government, has failed to effectively regulate the FAANG companies—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google.  However, another set of potential regulators exist in the United States—State Attorneys General.  Indeed, state attorneys general have led lawsuits against many industries, including tobacco and more recently the pharmaceutical industry.  Those attorneys general may be subject to similar public choice issues; however, sometimes they still act.  And, now, 50 attorneys general are going after Google.  Here is the press release: 

Attorney General Ken Paxton today announced that Texas is leading 50 attorneys general in a multistate, bipartisan investigation of tech giant Google’s business practices in accordance with state and federal antitrust laws.
The bipartisan coalition announced plans to investigate Google’s overarching control of online advertising markets and search traffic that may have led to anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers. Legal experts from each state will work in cooperation with Federal authorities to assess competitive conditions for online services and ensure that Americans have access to free digital markets.
“Now, more than ever, information is power, and the most important source of information in Americans’ day-to-day lives is the internet. When most Americans think of the internet, they no doubt think of Google,” said Attorney General Paxton. “There is nothing wrong with a business becoming the biggest game in town if it does so through free market competition, but we have seen evidence that Google’s business practices may have undermined consumer choice, stifled innovation, violated users’ privacy, and put Google in control of the flow and dissemination of online information. We intend to closely follow the facts we discover in this case and proceed as necessary.”  
Past investigations of Google uncovered violations ranging from advertising illegal drugs in the United States to now three antitrust actions brought by the European Commission. None of these previous investigations, however, fully address the source of Google’s sustained market power and the ability to engage in serial and repeated business practices with the intention to protect and maintain that power.

Monday, 9 September 2019

IP Valuation for Investment Purposes -- Part 1

Here is the second post by Dr. Roya Ghafele.  It is the first part of a two part series on the importance of IP Valuation.  

IP valuation for Investment Purposes – Part 1

By Roya Ghafele, OxFirst Ltd. www.oxfirst.com

With the European Central Bank’s interest rate decision continuing to be at 0%, investors are forced to put their funds to work in different ways.  Can patents, the underlying rights to an invention, offer such an alternative? 

Any type of investment decision is hinged on an adequate appraisal of risk and return rates of an investment. Ideally, an investment yields high returns, while risk rates are kept as low as possible. The investment in intellectual property forms no exception to that.

The adequate valuation of intellectual property can hence play an important role in the promotion of technology markets. It is through this instrument that investors can make an educated placement of their funds. In spite of the instrumental role that IP valuation could assume, it is often ignored in the financial community. 

The problem does not seem to be that it is not possible to value IP for investment purposes or that IP has any intrinsic features that would prevent its valuation. The problem is a lack of awareness of the many opportunities provided by IP valuation. If investors have IP on their radar screen at all, then they tend to contend themselves with counting patents (apparently, the more, the better seems to be the premise) or to check if the company is involved in any legal proceedings. As to early stage technology companies, investors will at best consult a patent attorney who can undertake a freedom to operate analysis of the underlying patents of a technology. While such an assessment can provide helpful legal insights, it does not allow to understand how IP relates to potential business performance.

IP managers in technology companies on the other hand side do often also not know how to best communicate the value of patents to financial analysts, angel, VC or Private Equity Investors. Current accounting standards that allow to only partially reflect the value of patents do not make things easier.[1]  This leads to market inefficiencies, where valuable technology sits gathering dust, while investors are not able to scope potentially attractive financial opportunities. Already in 2014, the European Commission called for an enhanced usage of IP valuation as a means to better link those in search for funding with those eager to put their money to work.[2] Equally, the UK Intellectual Property Office launched an initiative inviting the City of London to ‘Bank on Intellectual Property.’ [3] Those initiatives have so far shown little results and the best practice for leveraging IP in financial transactions still seems to stem out of Silicon Valley, where some financial institutions have been reported to use IP valuation for investment purposes. [4]  Yet, institutions like these are the worthy exception, rather than the norm. 

So, with a lot to gain from overcoming the little understanding that prevails on IP valuation, the question arises what technology entrepreneurs can do to attract investors to their business.

I turn to this question in the part 2 of this comment, where I will seek to offer some practical tips that may help to better link IP to cash flows.



[1]  GHAFELE, R. ‘Accounting for Intellectual Property?’ Oxford Journal on Intellectual Property Law & Practice, Nr. 5/7 2010, at 37

[2] EUROPEAN COMMISSION, Report of the Export Group on Intellectual Property Valuation. http://ec.europa.eu/research/innovation-union/pdf/Expert_Group_Report_on_Intellectual_Property_Valuation_IP_web_2.pdf  (2014) at 7, 22-23, 57, 91,

[3] UKIPO ‘Banking on Intellectual Property? The role of intellectual property and intangible assets in facilitating business finance’ available at: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ipresearch-bankingip.pdf (2014) at 221

[4] See About Silicon Valley Bank, http://www.svb.com/about-silicon-valley-bank/ (disclosing that Silicon Valley Bank’s clients include 50% “of all venture capital-backed tech and life science companies in the US” and that Silicon Valley Bank was established in 1983).