Friday 12 August 2016

US FTC and DOJ Seek Comments to New Proposed Antitrust Guidelines for Licensing Intellectual Property

The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice announced August 12, 2016, that they are seeking comments on the proposed updated antitrust guidelines for licensing intellectual property.  The prior 1995 guidelines are being updated in light of changing law and additional experience gained by the agencies, according to the press release.  Specifically, the press release states:

[T]he agencies have determined that some revisions are in order because the IP Licensing Guidelines should accurately reflect intervening changes in statutory and case law. For example, Congress recently enacted the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, creating for the first time a federal cause of action for misappropriation of trade secrets. Also, the change from a 17-year patent term (from the date of grant) to a 20-year patent term (from the date of filing) effectuated by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 was on the verge of taking effect when the IP Licensing Guidelines were issued in 1995. Similarly, copyright terms are longer now than when the IP Licensing Guidelines were issued. The proposed updated IP Licensing Guidelines account for these statutory developments. 

Case law developments include the Supreme Court’s decision in Illinois Tool Works, Inc. v. Independent Ink, Inc., in which the Court subscribed to the agencies’ view in the IP Licensing Guidelines that a patent does not necessarily confer market power on the patentee. Another important development is the Court’s decision in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., which held that resale price maintenance (RPM) agreements should be evaluated under the rule of reason, overturning a nearly century-old view of per se illegality. Although Leegin arose in the context of resale price restrictions on goods sold by retailers, the agencies find that its analysis applies equally to pricing restrictions in intellectual property licensing agreements. The IP Licensing Guidelines therefore have been amended to reflect rule-of-reason treatment of vertical price agreements.

The agencies are also updating the IP Licensing Guidelines’ discussion of general principles to reflect the research in the FTC’s 2011 Evolving IP Marketplace report. The agencies also added language to reinforce their longstanding view that “the antitrust laws generally do not impose liability upon a firm for a unilateral refusal to assist its competitors, in part because doing so may undermine incentives for investment and innovation.”

In addition, the agencies are updating the analysis of markets affected by licensing arrangements to mirror the approach taken in the 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines. The IP Licensing Guidelines’ approach to innovation markets has been revised to reflect the agencies’ actual experience with this mode of analysis. The proposed update retains the concept of “innovation markets,” but refers to them as “Research and Development Markets” to more accurately reflect how these markets have been defined in enforcement actions.

The updated guidelines are available, here.  You can submit comments to [Hat tip to Professor Jorge Contreras at University of Utah College of Law]

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