Friday 11 January 2013

Incentives to Collaborate: WIPO Article and the US DOJ/USPTO Guidance Letter

In the December 2012 WIPO Magazine there is an excellent brief article concerning patent pools and standards titled, “Collaboration in Intellectual Property: An Overview,” by distinguished Harvard Business School Professor Josh Lerner and doctoral student Eric Lin.  The article describes the increase in patent pools in the last 15 to 20 years after a period of regulatory distrust of such collaborations since the 1940s.  The article notes that many questions remain for research relating to collaborations and makes suggestions for future research, but also states that some lessons can be learned from the existing literature, such as “requiring patent pools to engage in independent licensing.”  The article also argues that regulatory agencies should “actively encourage socially beneficial collaborations” instead of focusing on the potential anticompetitive consequences of such collaborations.  Specifically, the authors note that France, Germany and the United Kingdom provide benefits to participants in certain collaborations.  Moreover, the authors caution that US regulators may be too zealous in prohibiting discussions of price by standard setting organizations and this may waste time.  The authors suggest a “temporary safe-harbor status to firms that wish to explore the feasibility of collaborating.” 

The United States appears to be taking some steps towards ensuring that the International Trade Commission does not act in a way that creates a disincentive to participate in or create collaborations.  In a January 8, Joint Statement by the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division (DOJ) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Office of the General Counsel (USPTO), the DOJ and USPTO provide guidance to the International Trade Commission concerning whether exclusion orders should issue in all cases if standards essential patents offered on F/RAND terms are infringed.  The DOJ and USPTO clearly explain the benefits of patents as well as the benefits of voluntary licensing such as F/RAND licensing, and ultimately caution that exclusion orders in particular cases could result in providing disincentives to participate in F/RAND licensing.  The Intellectual Property Watch provides a description of the report here and a copy of the report is available here.   A good first step? 

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