Saturday, 5 May 2018

Trump Administration Releases Annual IP Report to Congress

The White House U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator has released its Annual Intellectual Property Report (Report) to Congress (around 170 pages!).  The Report outlines the Trump Administration’s approach to intellectual property policy and provides information concerning the activity of the various agencies in the U.S. government with duties related to intellectual property.  The bulk of the Report includes appendices which are descriptions of the work of each agency concerning intellectual property over the last year or so. 

The general thrust of the Trump Administration’s approach to intellectual property is stated by a President Trump quote:

“We will safeguard the copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and other intellectual property that is so vital to our security and to our prosperity. We will uphold our values, we will defend our workers, and we will protect the innovations, creations, and inventions that power our magnificent country.” 

The Report outlines the Administration’s four-part strategic approach, which includes: 

• engagement with our trading partners; • effective use of all our legal authorities, including our trade tools; • expanded law enforcement action and cooperation, and • engagement and partnership with the private sector and other stakeholders.

Under the first strategic approach, the Report outlines various initiatives and activities across different agencies to engage and educate trading partners, including the USPTO’s Global Intellectual Property Academy.  Under the second strategic approach, the Report notes that the Trump Administration will strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States as well as utilize the WTO Dispute Settlement process.  On the third strategic approach, the Report notes:

 At the end of FY 2017, the FBI had 228 pending IPR investigations. The largest number of investigations deal with the theft of trade secrets (79), copyright infringement (79),31 and trademark infringement (64).32 During FY 2017, the FBI initiated 44 new investigations, made 31 arrests, got 23 convictions, and had seizures totaling $750,205, forfeitures totaling $86,949, restitution totaling $53,396,003, and FIRE (Frozen, Indicted, Restrained, Encumbered) totaling $750,000. 

In FY 2017, the number of CBP and HSI IPR seizures increased more than eight percent, to 34,143 (from 31,560 in FY 2016). The total estimated Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the seized goods, had they been genuine, was $1,206,382,219.

In FY 2017, ICE-HSI initiated 713 intellectual property investigations and had 457 arrests, 288 indictments, and 240 convictions.

In FY 2017, the IPR Center vetted 27,856 investigative leads; of these 16,030 were referred to law enforcement partners. Additionally, the IPR center de-conflicted 4,750 investigative targets for partner agencies and industry. While performing these de-conflictions, the IPR Center identified 321 situations where two or more entities were investigating the same target. Finally, the IPR Center referred 959 leads to private industry for follow-up.  . . .

U.S. law enforcement and Federal agencies participated in Operation Pangea X, which was conducted from August 19, 2017 to September 19, 2017, with the participation of 123 countries, and culminated with a week of action, where participating countries and agencies conducted and/or reported the results of their respective operations. U.S. and Mexican authorities typically participate in Pangea independent of each other. However, in FY 2017, ICE-HSI, CBP, and Mexico collaborated during the U.S. operational phase of this operation. On September 25, 2017, INTERPOL issued a press release highlighting the results of Operation Pangea X, which resulted in 3,584 websites taken off-line, 400 arrests worldwide, and the seizure of 470,000 packages with an estimated value of $51 million in potentially dangerous medicine.

The IPR Center’s Operation Apothecary addresses, analyzes, and attacks potential vulnerabilities in the entry process that might allow for the Internet-facilitated smuggling of commercial quantities of counterfeit, unapproved, and/or adulterated drugs through international mail facilities, express courier hubs, and land borders. During FY 2017, Operation Apothecary resulted in 59 new cases, 38 arrests, 37 indictments, and 41 convictions, as well as 567 seizure incidents of counterfeit items.

On standard setting, the Report notes:

Standards Setting: Many of America’s economic competitors engage strategically in standards setting organizations (SSOs), often to the detriment of American innovators. As the Administration and American industry engage with SSOs, it will be important to ensure that SSOs are being used fairly to promote the adoption of new technologies, rather than impeding the ability for American innovators to continue creating and inventing.  And as SSOs promote the adoption of new technologies, such technologies should be available to industry under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Unreasonably-low royalties in top-down FRAND-rate determinations for TCL v. Ericsson


While Ericsson is a leading contributor to mobile communications standards, a US District Court in California has significantly undervalued Ericsson’s standard-essential patents (SEPs) by relying heavily on flawed “top-down” valuation analysis that prorates royalties by company for 2G, 3G and 4G based on SEP counting. This analysis applies a series of inaccurate assumptions which whittle down royalty rates from an understated notional maximum in a succession of unreliable steps. The resulting rates derived are a lot lower than those found in a European court’s FRAND determination for the same company in the same year (2017) and for the same 2G, 3G, and 4G patent portfolios. The differences between these US and European determinations are irreconcilable.

The perils of top-down methodology


Two nations divided


In late 2017, Honourable James V. Selna, Judge of the District Court of the Central District of California, handed down a court-ordered fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) license in TCL v. Ericsson.[1] His Court’s Decision used a top-down analysis, together with a comparable license analysis as a cross-check, to determine various FRAND rates. This approach might, at first glance, be perceived as similar to the FRAND determination in the UK's Unwired Planet decision.[2] However, in that case Honourable Justice Birss centered on Ericsson’s comparable licenses and used top-down analysis only as a cross-check. This difference, among others, led to significantly different results.

In TCL v. Ericsson, the Court’s tasks were to determine:
  • Whether Ericsson met its FRAND obligation,
  • Whether Ericsson's final offers before litigation, Offer A and Offer B, satisfy FRAND, 
  • What terms are material to a FRAND license, and then supply the FRAND terms.
The Court was presented with two principal schemes for determining the proper royalty rates. TCL advocated a "top-down" approach which begins with an aggregate royalty for all patents encompassed in a standard, then determines a firm's portion of that aggregate. Ericsson used its existing licenses with similarly situated licensees (i.e. comparable licenses) to determine the appropriate rates. Ericsson also offered an "ex ante," or ex-Standard, approach which seeks to measure in absolute terms the value which Ericsson's patents add to a product by asking consumers how much they value certain product capabilities such as improved battery life.

Cap and prorate


My critique focuses on the use of top-down analysis adopted by the court in the TCL v. Ericsson case, with reference to some metrics used in the UK Unwired Planet decision. One reason for doing so is that both courts were presented almost identical evidence, but each judge chose a different approach, leading to the US District Court granting rates for the Ericsson portfolio that are less than half the rates determined by the UK High Court. I have been critical of top-down methodologies as the key element to determine FRAND royalties in various articles for more than a decade.[3] This critique is the latest in this series. It also follows my work as a testifying expert witness on behalf of Ericsson in the US case.

Top-down apportionments are almost invariably based on the notions of a fixed royalty rate aggregate or cap and royalty-rate proportionality based on patent counts rather than patent value. Unlike in patent cases, where courts definitively determine validity, infringement and essentiality patent-by-patent; no such determinations were made by the Court on Ericsson’s patents, or on the larger universe of all patents declared by their owners to be possibly essential to the cellular standards.

Therefore, any ostensible exactitude in the top-down figures derived is spurious. The Court notes that “The search for precision and absolute certainty is a doomed undertaking.” (Decision, page14). I agree: no methodology can provide that in FRAND-rate setting. For example, it is impractical in terms of time or money to conduct —on hundreds or thousands of patents in SEP portfolios—the kind of patent-by-patent analysis typically carried out on no more than a handful of patents in patent infringement and validity litigation.

Significant failings in the Court's top-down FRAND-rate determinations include starting with aggregate royalty rate figures that were too low and then whittling these down with a succession of largely erroneous adjustments:
  • It mistakenly regarded announcements and other disclosures of companies' individual royalty rates and of expected aggregate royalties as multi-mode rates including two or more standards rather than as single-mode rates.
  • These aggregate rates were then prorated with much greater scrutiny and adjustments to the count of Ericsson's SEPs in the numerator and than for the "relevant universe" of all SEPs in the denominator of the apportionment calculations:
    • Only a subset of Ericsson's patents with claim charts were included in the numerator, whereas patents were counted in the denominator without any requirement for creation or submission of claim carts,
    • Whereas all Ericsson's SEPs counted —whether or not patent essentiality was contested by TCL's experts—were evaluated by the parties for at least 50 hours per patent family, the average time spent evaluating entire patent families counted in the relevant universe was a cursory 45 minutes,
    • Modest adjustments for SEP over-declaration in the relevant universe were based on highly unreliable "error rate" calculations,
    • Substantial and unwarranted geographic adjustments were made to Ericsson's SEPs and royalty rates,
    • Inapplicable adjustments were made for expiration of Ericsson's patents while disregarding significant value in new SEPs (e.g. for LTE Advanced).

Comps and other valuation methods


Comparable licenses, with the prices in these firmly established by several years of commerce and billions of dollars in licensing payments already made, can provide the most accurate and reliable basis to establish FRAND licensing rates. The inaccuracies there are in interpreting and adjusting figures and terms so that comparisons can be made among licenses on an apples-to-apples basis. Comparable licenses are widely accepted pricing benchmarks in patent cases around the globe, including those involving SEPs. There is also much to comment upon with respect to the (lack of) rigor and accuracy in the Court’s analysis and findings based on Ericsson’s existing licenses: for example, how cross-licenses were “unpacked” to derive “one-way” licensing rates. Nevertheless, I am leaving this and the Court’s rejection of Ericsson’s ex-standard valuation method for others to analyze in detail right now, or for me to do so elsewhere in due course.

Following my review of the courts’ decisions in both abovementioned cases, I continue to conclude that top-down valuation methodologies are subject to various shortcomings including inaccuracy (i.e. true error rates in determinations are unknown), unreliability (i.e. results are not reproducible consistently) and susceptibility to significant bias (because determinations are so subjective and devoid of an audit trail on how determinations are made). Centering on a top-down methodology that is largely based on only cursory standard-essentiality determinations by TCL's experts in this case, as the primary means of apportioning FRAND rates is untrustworthy.

The above is a summary of my critique of the Court's top-down analysis which is available in full, here, and also in the SSRN eLibrary.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

US Department of Agriculture will not Regulate Gene-Edited Crops

The US Secretary of Agriculture recently announced that the US Department of Agriculture will not regulate gene-edited crops.  As the Futurist explains, this is different than genetically modified crops, which will continue to be regulated.  In a document titled, “Details on USDA Plant Breeding Innovations,” the USDA states: 

USDA is committed to helping farmers produce healthy, affordable food in a sustainable manner that protects this country’s natural resources and offers more choices for consumers. Through innovative methods, plant scientists can now create new plant varieties that are indistinguishable from those developed through traditional breeding methods. These new approaches to plant breeding include methods like genome editing and present tremendous opportunities for farmers and consumers alike by making available plants with traits that may protect crops against threats like drought and diseases, increase nutritional value, and eliminate allergens. 
In keeping with our responsibility to protect plant health, USDA has carefully reviewed products of these new technologies to determine whether they require regulatory oversight. 
As USDA works to modernize its biotechnology regulations, the vision and direction of this Department will be to continue to focus regulatory initiatives on the basis of risk to plant health. 
Under its biotechnology regulations, USDA does not currently regulate, or have any plans to regulate plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding techniques as long as they are developed without the use of a plant pest as the donor or vector and they are not themselves plant pests. This can include plant varieties with the following changes: 
  • Deletions—the change to the plant is solely a genetic deletion of any size.
  • Single base pair substitutions—the change to the plant is a single base pair substitution.
  • Insertions from compatible plant relatives—the change to the plant solely introduces nucleic acid sequences from a compatible relative that could otherwise cross with the recipient organism and produce viable progeny through traditional breeding.
  • Complete Null Segregants—off-spring of a genetically engineered plant that does not retain the change of its parent.
The Press Release also notes that other agencies also regulate biotechnology innovations, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.  For more on access to the CRISPR technology, see this IP Finance post.  

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Guest Post: Intellectual Property, Finance and Corporate Governance

We are pleased to publish this guest post by former IP Finance contributor and Senior Lecturer in Law, Dr. Janice Denoncourt, at the Nottingham Law School at the Nottingham Trent University. 

The emergence of IP rich companies is the new corporate governance challenge. This is because IP is largely invisible, not only in the financial accounts, but also more generally in corporate law theory and the legal framework.  The research in my new book Intellectual Property, Finance and Corporate Governance demonstrates why companies need to communicate more about how they manage corporate intellectual property (IP) rights portfolios and their strategy for delivering shareholder value. Depending on their business model and corporate objectives, companies add value via their corporate IP assets in different ways to achieve their goals.   In the modern era, all companies, large and small, have intellectual property (IP) rights, sometimes across multiple jurisdictions.  They are corporate IP owners.  At the same time, the shift to intangibles and IP assets as the major driver of value in business is clear and unstoppable.  Since the Global Financial Crisis ten years ago there has been a renewed interest in our current understanding of capitalism.  As a result, shareholders, business people, stakeholders and the public, seek more relevant, accurate information about IP-dependent business models and their impact on commercial value.    

Dr. Janice Denoncourt
In the aftermath of the Theranos 'misleading investors' scandal, this is an increasingly important modern corporate governance issue.  Theranos, Inc. is an American consumer healthcare technology company based in Palo Alto, California founded in 2003 by inventor and Managing Director Elizabeth Holmes. In 2018 Holmes was subject to civil charges by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for massive fraud in excess of $700 million USD for having repeatedly yet inaccurately assured shareholders and regulators that the company’s patented blood testing technology was revolutionary (see https://www.sec.gov/litigation/complaints/2018/comp-pr2018-41-theranos-holmes.pdf).  Theranos’ 200 plus US patent portfolio is public information via the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) portal and a significant corporate investment in IP. Holmes co-invented more than 270 of the company’s patented innovations. While patents do not equate to innovation or commercial success, they do act as business indicators of inventive activity as well as a commitment to protect the results of innovation.  Holmes, of all people, was well placed (if not best placed) to understand the capability of the blood testing technology. The alleged misconduct, namely misleading investors and government officials, has generated a new global regulatory discourse about what companies need to tell us about their IP.  Arguing that it needed 'to protect its IP' to excuse material omissions and misleading disclosures is not acceptable according to the SEC.  In the SEC’s press release on 14 March this year, Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division stated:

            Investors are entitled to nothing less than complete truth and candor from companies and their executives... The charges against Theranos, Holmes, and Balwani make clear that there is no exemption from the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws simply because a company is non-public, development-stage, or the subject of exuberant media attention.

Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division further confirmed:

            As a result of Holmes’ alleged fraudulent conduct, she is being stripped of control of the company she founded, is returning millions of shares to Theranos, and is barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years...This package of remedies exemplifies our efforts to impose tailored and meaningful sanctions that directly address the unlawful behaviour charged and best remedies the harm done to shareholders.

Key corporate governance principles of transparency and disclosure are being more rigorously applied to corporate ownership of monopolistic IP rights that protect innovation and creativity.  In the US, SEC disclosure law Regulation S-K requires disclosure of the importance, duration and effect of all patents, trademarks, licences, franchises and concessions that a company holds.  The standard for 'material' corporate IP asset disclosures will continue to evolve in the US and other IP-rich jurisdictions.  The civil legal action brought by the SEC against Holmes is the catalyst highlighting a void in corporate practice.   IP-rich companies like Theranos will continue seeking corporate finance which falls under the corporate governance regulatory umbrella.   IP rich companies need to ensure they reflect on disclosure and transparency rules and take into account the growing magnitude of their corporate intangibles, IP assets and IP business models that potentially generate future wealth for their shareholders and potential investors.  

Closer to home, in 2017 the UK implemented the EU Non-Financial Disclosure Directive which requires large and listed companies to include additional disclosures of non-financial information in their annual reports, similar to the disclosure requirements in the Strategic Report.  The Non-Financial Reporting Regulations insert sections 414CA and 414CB into the Companies Act 2006, supplementing the existing strategic report requirements as set out in section 414C.  These new company law equirements potentially increase the reporting of non-financial information, better business and IP strategy reporting through the mandatory requirement to report the company’s business model.  This EU-wide reform highlights the growing importance of disclosure of non-financial information.

IP rights have evolved from being “a little pool to a big ocean” of corporate value and that corporate governance needs to respond to society’s rising expectations of directors and boards.  The astonishing lack of quantitative and qualitative public information about the growing magnitude of corporate IP assets makes it difficult to assess strategic value (“the IP value story”) and directors’ stewardship of those assets.  More relevant, accurate and 'joined up' corporate IP information (mostly known to internal management) is needed to triangulate intangibles financial data through cross verification with narrative disclosures and actual events.  The SEC stated that Theranos engaged in “elaborate, years-long fraud in which they exaggerated or made false statements about the company’s technology, business and financial performance.”  This is a new frontier in corporate governance thinking and practice. 

My research evaluates how corporate boards can ensure an appropriate level of transparency and make voluntary and mandatory ‘true and fair’ disclosures about a company’s corporate IP assets such as patents and trade secrets in traditional formats such as the accounts and the annual report.   The philosophies and principles that underpin debates on disclosure and transparency suggest that more 'open' disclosures about innovation, whilst preserving competitive advantage, are necessary so we have something to read, evaluate, react to and question. Countries including the US and the United Kingdom have mandatory obligations to report on gender balance, climate change and more, but not expressly corporate IP.  Patents, mini-case studies and an original business triage-style model for assessing corporate IP information, strategy and disclosures illustrate the gaps corporate governance theory needs to address.  Companies need to tell us how their corporate investment in R&D and IP rights contributes to the bottom line and regulators need to ensure boards of directors are accountable for IP management and strategy decisions, an important underside of the intangible economy.  

Intellectual Property, Finance and Corporate Governance contributes to the legal and economic literature for readers interested in what lies behind the headlines.  The foreword is written by Professor Nicolas Binctin, Universite of Poitiers. As for the future of the Silicon Valley biotech company Theranos, Inc., the company has since made hundreds of staff redundant to avert becoming insolvent.

Dr J Denoncourt, Nottingham Law School

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Free webinar on "IP Valuation for Wealth Creation"


OxFirst is pleased to host a free webinar, to take place on April 24th at 3:00 pm UK time, on the topic of “IP Valuation for Wealth Generation”, and why IP valuation can play a crucial role in every step necessary to generate wealth on the grounds of intellectual capital. The speaker will be the internationally noted IP expert, Dr. Guriqbal Jaiya. Dr. Jaiya will discuss various ways to value IP and will weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each method. As well, he will address how IP valuation can be leveraged in corporate finance, strategy, litigation, licensing and tax.

As readers of IP Finance are well aware, IP valuation is playing, or at least has the potential to play, a fundamental role in corporate strategy, helping maximize profits and attracting investments. The valuation of the portfolio of pending and granted patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrighted works and designs of a firm remains often the best guess of the firm’s value and its investment potential. As such, the valuation of IP can be crucial to realize the business potential of a company. Yet, despite this, IP valuation is still often underutilized.

About the Speaker

Dr. Jaiya is an internationally recognised expert on intellectual property and intangible asset management, with a special focus on entrepreneurship, start-ups and innovative small and medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

For 24 years, he served with notable distinction as a senior officer at WIPO. While at WIPO, he worked closely with a wide variety of multilateral institutions, including the WTO, UNDP, World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, ILO, ADB, AfDB, IADB, UNCTAD, Asian Productivity Organisation, ESCAP, UNECE, ESCWA, ECA, ECLAC, FAO, ITC, OECD, as well as over 150 national and regional IP offices. [This blogger wonders whether OXFirst will give a prize to anyone who can recite without consultation the full name for each of these acronyms.]

Dr. Jaiya has conceptualised, authored or co-authored numerous articles and book chapters on IP as well as some 15 books and 13 multimedia modules on different facets of IP management in business. He has delivered lectures, made public presentations and conducted training events on different facets of IP asset management in business for diverse audiences in regional and international events for participants from some 175 countries. [This blogger still cherishes the half-day that he spent with Dr. Jaiya at WIPO a decade ago, in which we discussed a wide variety of IP issues.]

Dr. Jaiya serves as a senior advisor to OxFirst.

For details about registration, see here. Please note that OxFirst cannot accept registration from private email accounts.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Fixing Facebook


Facebook has seen better times for sure.  The reviews on Facebook’s reaction to the recent Cambridge Analytica disaster have been far from glowing.  Can Facebook address consumer concerns with privacy, particularly when a good part of its business model is based on the commodification of user data?  If its profit center is primarily selling data, what can Facebook do to better protect privacy.  Should it obtain “more” consent?  How much “consent” is enough?  One potential fix (and practically I don’t know how this would be implemented) would be to change Facebook to a B Corp—a public benefit corporation.  Facebook could become a corporation that is not primarily driven by maximizing shareholder value, but instead also by the public interest.  Here is a description of the Delaware B Corp:

A public benefit corporation (PBC) will be formed in the same manner as any other corporation formed under the Delaware General Corporation Law. However, in order to be a PBC, the corporation’s certificate of incorporation must identify one or more specific public benefits and must have a name that clearly identifies its status as a PBC. Public benefits for which corporations may be formed include, but are not limited to, those of an artistic, charitable, cultural, economic, educational, environmental, literary, medical, religious, scientific or technical nature.

At least once every two years, a public benefit corporation must send its stockholders a statement with respect to its promotion of the public benefit(s) identified in its charter, as well as its promotion of the best interests of those materially affected by the corporation’s conduct. 

This is not a “perfect” fix, but maybe it is a move in the right direction. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Chinese National Convicted of Conspiracy to Steal Trade Secrets in Kansas


Recently, Newsweek has published an article titled, “A Chinese Scientist Stole American Rice and will Spend a Decade in Prison,” by Max Kunter.  The article explains how Mr. Zhang worked for a biotechnology company, Ventria, around Manhattan, Kansas (the location of Kansas State University) and genetically modified seeds from that company were found in the baggage of Chinese research visitors from a Chinese crop research institute on their way back to China.  Mr. Zhang is Chinese national and a legal permanent resident. He has been convicted of conspiring to steal trade secrets.  He will serve 10 years in prison. 

Interestingly, the article notes:

FBI Director Christopher Wray has also warned about China. Asked during a Senate intelligence committee hearing in February about the counterintelligence risk from Chinese students in the U.S., Wray said, “The use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country…. They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have.”

Here are a couple of observations.  First, there could be an argument that this activity is not sponsored by the government in China.  Mr. Zhang may be acting illegally, but on his own accord.  He may realize that this seed is very valuable and that by passing the seed on to co-conspirators he may be entitled to a piece of a new company started in China selling the same seed in other markets.  The people starting the new company may similarly be operating without government approval or sponsorship.  However, it is interesting that he passed the seeds on to a Chinese crop research institute.  I wonder who sponsors the work of the research institute.  Mr. Zhang was also defended by public defenders, but I imagine that if this was state sponsored the government of China is likely not going to pay for his defense—that would look bad.  Second, I am curious to learn more about data substantiating Mr. Wray’s comments about “every field office . . . around the country.” 

Thursday, 5 April 2018

OxFirst webinar on "IP indicators for business performance"


OxFirst has announced a webinar on the always challenging topic of “IP indicators for business performance.” The webinar will take place on April 12, 2018, 15:00 British Standard Time and the speaker will be Mr. Terry Adams, former Assistant Vice President of Intellectual Asset Management at Nestle.

The topic-- Connecting intellectual property metrics and key performance indicators (KPI’s) to business relevant metrics and KPI’s is critical to gaining and holding the attention of executives within an organization. The relevant information typically exists within disparate systems, but data are rarely properly integrated to generate meaningful perspective.

The speaker--Terry Adams has vast experience across numerous product categories, including food, beverages, home care, and personal care in the fields of scientific research and product development. He began his career at Procter and Gamble, where he became a Group Leader in 1991. In 1994, Mr. Adams joined the Dial Corporation (now a company of Henkel), where he eventually was appointed Manager of International Technology Coordination, covering all of Dial’s product categories. In 1998, Mr. Adams joined the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, where he was eventually appointed the Senior Research Manager of the Global Intellectual Asset Management Team, providing strategic coordination of Kimberly-Clark's 3500 patent families and other global intellectual assets. Mr. Adams joined NestlĂ© in July 2006 as Assistant Vice President and head of the Technology Intellectual Property function, a matrix network across 28 technology centers in 10 countries.

For registration, see here. OxFirst notes that the number of places is limited and that only registrations undertaken from professional email addresses are accepted (no registrations from Yahoo, Gmail or similar private accounts will be accepted).

By Neil Wilkof

Photo by Robert Cutts and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Some Worst Case Scenarios as the Trade War with China Escalates


As the trade war and tension with China escalates, I am thinking about some worst case scenarios—particularly in the academic context concerning intellectual property/valuable information.  At least one commentator has made the allegation that the Trump Administration may attempt to restrict students from China.  This will greatly hurt some universities who are deriving a substantial amount of revenue from Chinese university students—and will benefit universities in other countries without such a restrictive policy such as Canada.   It is not too much of a jump to think the Trump Administration may also attempt to restrict Chinese professors and researchers from visiting academic institutions or being hired by academic institutions.  There have been quite a few interesting allegations raised concerning Confucius Institutes at U.S. universities.  I am wondering whether the United States and other countries will attempt to restrict the travel and employment in China of their academics who are citizens of their respective countries.  For example, let’s say a top researcher who is a U.S. citizen at Stanford University is offered a position at a major university in China or another country.  Could the U.S. government attempt to restrict the academic from moving (or even giving academic presentations)?  Does that happen already?  Certainly, we do have U.S. export control laws that would restrict certain technologies from being disclosed to a national of another country even in this country.  Perhaps a distinction will be made based on whether the research is funded by the government.  What about publication?  Will the Trump Administration also attempt to restrict academics from publishing certain research--there are some rules concerning national security and publication of patents?  Ultimately, does it matter if we do not have adequate cybersecurity protections?  

The Importance of an Accurate Assessment of Patent Valuation and Potential Market


A recent article in the Saint Louis Post Dispatch by Christopher Yasiejeko describes a patent-related dispute between two academic institutions.  Two major research universities, University of Wisconsin (through its technology licensing arm, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)) and University of Washington, Saint Louis (WUSTL) are engaged in litigation concerning royalty payments over a jointly invented patented invention that was licensed to Abbott Laboratories.  The inventors included a researcher from Wisconsin and one from WUSTL. 
One of the issues with university developed technology is who will cover the patent prosecution costs.  Here, WARF apparently agreed to cover the costs for a higher royalty rate.  The dispute concerns apparent representations made by WARF concerning the value of the patent—allegedly representations were made that the value was not very high by WARF.  WUSTL appears to assert that WARF made representations to others that the patent was actually quite valuable and eventually important to the pharmaceutical, Zemplar, which according to the article “generated $409 million in sales in 2011.”  This appears to be a case where fraud in the inducement in entering the contract is relevant.  However, it seems strange that WUSTL was unable to arrive at their own valuation or understand the potential market for the invention—perhaps they did not have the resources at the time invested in technology transfer.  WARF was likely well financed at that time and certainly experienced.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Recording Industry Association of America Reports Revenues are Up in 2017


The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reports that revenues are up for a second year in a row.  The RIAA states that:

In 2017 revenues from recorded music in the United States increased 16.5% at estimated retail value to $8.7 billion, continuing the growth from the previous year. At wholesale, revenues grew 12.6% to $5.9 billion. Similar to 2016, these increases came primarily from growth in paid music subscriptions to services like Spotify, Amazon, Tidal, Apple Music, Pandora and others, which grew by more than 50%. This is the first time since 1999 that U.S. music revenues grew materially for two years in a row. At $8.7 billion, the industry has taken a decade to return to the same overall revenue level as 2008, and is still 40% below peak levels as the growth from streaming has been offset by continued declines in revenues from both physical and digital unit based sales. 

Notably, “[s]treaming music platforms accounted for almost 2/3rd of total U.S. music industry revenues in 2017, and contributed nearly all of the growth.”  Interestingly, digital download revenues slipped 25%.  Also, “[s]hipments of physical products decreased just 4% to $1.5 billion in 2017, a lower rate of decline than in recent years.”  This is good news for the industry; although we are talking about returning to 2008 revenue levels. An earlier WIPO report noted that positive revenue growth in prior years was attributable to two causes: streaming (new business models) and an expansion into new markets (mostly developing countries).  

Monday, 26 March 2018

Where is 5G communications technology IP coming from?

As I explained in IP Finance last week, following President Trump's blocking of Broadcom’s hostile bid to acquire Qualcomm, by remaining independent the cellular technology leader will be able to maintain its long-term commitment to high levels of R&D investment (at 23 percent of sales recently), most significantly including that in 5G communications standard-essential IP.

Use Cases for 5G International Mobile Telecommunications
5G is strategically important to the entire mobile ecosystem and to many nations for economic as well as for national security reasons.  The 5G standard will support many complementary technologies and market developments. Total estimated value is $12.3 trillion in 2035.

5G is a new standard that significantly embodies cumulative technology developments from previous cellular standards including 3G UMTS and 4G LTE. Many more innovative new technologies will also be added to 5G over the next decade or so. 

Transformation and growth with 5G
Mobile communications has improved in leaps and bounds since the introduction of analog phones in the early 1980s. After cellular was only significantly used for voice calling for a couple of decades, network traffic from voice was surpassed by data communications in 2009 with demand for the latter at least doubling every 18 months ever since. This is no mean feat. It resulted from major investments in technology R&D as well as in network facilities and new devices.

Exponential growth in mobile data
With the first commercial 5G deployments from around 2019, the new standard promises to be transformative and facilitate further growth with:
  • Enhanced mobile broadband—even more of the above, with higher speeds and increased capacity to support that and additional users
  • Ultra-reliable and low-latency communications for applications such as self-driving cars
  • Massive Machine Type Communication in the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect tens of billions of sensors and other devices worldwide
While market opportunities are wide ranging and will include numerous technologies, they are most significantly underpinned by the mobile communications technologies developed and contributed to the 5G standard, including IP protected by standard-essential patents.

Building on the shoulders of giants
5G is substantially based upon previous cellular technologies. For example, whereas previous advances from 1G to 2G, from 2G to 3G and from 3G to 4G where largely defined by a totally new “air interface”, both 4G LTE and 5G “New Radio” are predominantly based on OFDMA wireless technology. 5G is also capitalizing on many other technologies that were already introduced in previous standards. Examples include QAM modulation, MIMO space division multiplexing and multi-carrier aggregation technologies. This short paper of mine explains in greater depth how seminal and foundational technologies are initially contributed to the standards and are then also very valuably reused in later standards. As standardization progresses, many more companies get involved in the process, including some who supplement these foundational technologies with additional contributions of varied worth.

As declarations begin to be made—of patents that owners believe are essential to the 5G standard—it will soon become apparent that a clear majority of these will have already have been declared essential to previous standards including various 3G standards and 4G LTE. Technology-IP leaders in 3G and 4G will therefore also tend be the leaders in 5G.

It is still very early for 5G SEP declarations because declarations are usually made several months after the setting of standards. The first standardization of 5G was not until December 2017 in 3GPP Release 15.[1]

Following this initial 5G standard release, there is substantial additional and ongoing development work including trials, debugging, development of commercial products and the introduction many new technical features and performance improvements.

Leading cellular technology innovators, among others, will continue to make new contributions to the standards in 5G, including additional technologies that are being introduced in later releases of the 5G standard, as also illustrated in this Qualcomm blog posting.

Quality trumps quantity in SEPs
The value of standard-essential technologies is largely a function of patent quality—particularly including seminal and foundational contributions—rather than of the raw numbers of patents filed, issued or declared essential to the standards. Nevertheless, significant attention is paid to these metrics, and on the numbers of technical contributions to standard setting organizations because these figures are easy to count and promote in the media, in licensing negotiations and in court litigation.

However, SEP declarations and the number of technical contributions companies make to the standard-setting process can easily be inflated by those who seek to “game the system.” Declarations of patents that owners believe might be essential or might become essential to the standards are not policed or verified by SSOs. Their IPR databases were set up to identify patents and their owners, not for the purposes of apportioning SEP value or FRAND royalty rates. As I have indicated previously in IP Finance, patent counting is inaccurate and unreliable even when third parties make essentiality checks.


[1] 3GPP is the stand setting organization responsible for all the major mobile communications standards including 2G GSM, 3G UMTS, 4G LTE and 5G.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Trump Administration Moves Against Iranian Institute for Theft of University Information


US Department of Treasury and US Department of Justice charge Iranians and Iranian research institute with theft of intellectual property from universities throughout the world.  The press release from the US Department of Treasury names the Iranians.  Specifically, the press release states:

Today’s action designates one Iranian entity and 10 Iranian nationals pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, which targets malicious cyber activities, including those related to the significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for private financial gain.

The Mabna Institute is an Iran-based company that engaged in the theft of personal identifiers and economic resources for private financial gain. The organization was founded in or about 2013 to assist Iranian universities and scientific and research organizations in obtaining access to non-Iranian scientific resources. The Mabna Institute also contracted with Iranian governmental and private entities to conduct hacking activities on its behalf.  

The Mabna Institute conducted massive, coordinated cyber intrusions into computer systems belonging to at least approximately 144 United States-based universities, in addition to at least 176 universities located in 21 foreign countries:  Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  The exfiltrated data and stolen login credentials acquired through these malicious cyber-enabled activities were used for the benefit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and were also sold within Iran through at least two websites. The stolen login credentials belonging to university professors were used to directly access online university library systems.  

Today, OFAC is also designating nine Iran-based individuals who were leaders, contractors, associates, hackers for hire, and affiliates of the Mabna Institute for engaging in malicious cyber-enabled activities related to the significant misappropriation of economic resources or personal identifiers for private financial gain.

According to a Reuters article, this type of action was relatively rare under the Obama Administration. 


Better late than never to do the right thing for SEP owners


Winston Churchill once said you can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they have tried everything else.

At last, American authorities are also beginning to do the right thing for owners of standard-essential patents. Under the previous administration of President Barack Obama, America’s agencies did the wrong thing by seriously undermining standard-essential patents in various ways. For example, this existentially threatened the independence of Qualcomm, which relies substantially on its patent-licensing business to fund long-term R&D including that in upcoming 5G mobile communications. Thankfully, President Donald Trump’s administration has recognised the important need to support, not undermine, the nation’s technology innovators, and uphold their patent rights, as enshrined in the US Constitution.

President Trump’s blocking of Broadcom’s attempted hostile acquisition of Qualcomm brought allegations of protectionism and some discontent among shareholders; but no such intervention would ever have been called for if Qualcomm’s licensing business model had not been so wantonly attacked at home and abroad by antitrust actions including large fines and by royalty payments being withheld by Apple. This all took significant toll on the firm’s stock price. US agencies and major companies from various nations were widely complicit in the onslaught. In the absence of all that skulduggery, Qualcomm’s stock price would never have been within Broadcom’s acquisition reach.


Countermeasures required


The presidential intervention prompted the writing of several business newspaper leaders on matters of industrial policy, national security and merger control in the IP-rich technology sector, including 5G communications. While the order was made ostensibly for reasons of national security, protectionism is pejoratively alleged. Either way, the legitimate concern was that the prospective change of ownership and control would curtail Qualcomm’s long-term R&D investments – from high levels of 20-25 percent of sales over many years – jeopardizing its technology leadership and strong position versus China including its national champion Huawei.

Even before President Trump's order, the US Treasury's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) had already expressed concerns about the transaction in a letter addressed to Broadcom and Qualcomm lawyers.

The Financial Times recognizes ‘Qualcomm is no ordinary company. In an era when mobile technology is ingrained in every kind of economic activity, it develops key intellectual property underlying wireless communication. All mobile networks are built on standards developed with Qualcomm’s leadership. In a sense, Qualcomm’s technology touches all the data on all mobile devices, everywhere. Most people may not know it, but the company is as ubiquitous as the air.’

However, Chinese competitors benefit from strong industrial policies, private or state ownership and government subsidies which enable them to be more patient and less risk averse about obtaining returns on R&D investments. As noted in IP Finance, with recent figures from the EPO, Huawei (China) is now the top patent applicant in Europe. Also with focus on mobile communications technologies, Qualcomm and Ericsson are in fifth and tenth positions respectively. Patent counts are only part of the story where patent quality is most important, but these numbers at least provide an indication of the desire and intent of the Chinese to surpass their western competitors in IP ownership.

The Economist identifies the ascendancy of China. ‘“DESIGNED by Apple in California. Assembled in China”. For the past decade the words embossed on the back of iPhones have served as shorthand for the technological bargain between the world’s two biggest economies: America supplies the brains and China the brawn.

Not any more. China’s world-class tech giants, Alibaba and Tencent, have market values of around $500bn, rivalling Facebook’s. China has the largest online-payments market. Its equipment is being exported across the world. It has the fastest supercomputer. It is building the world’s most lavish quantum-computing research centre. Its forthcoming satellite-navigation system will compete with America’s GPS by 2020.’

The above follows the Economist’s headline a couple of weeks earlier ‘What the West got wrong: It bet that China would head towards democracy and a market economy. The gamble has failed.’

National security makes national champions


If a trade war is emerging in the technology sector, under the pretext of protecting national security it not the US that fired the first salvo.

Due to Chinese national security including the Great Firewall of China with censorship restrictions, the Internet’s over-the-top services markets have been balkanised in China. Chinese leaders Alibaba (e-commerce), Tencent (social networking), Baidu (79% of Chinese search) and others have preempted or displaced the global leaders such as Facebook and Google.

Competition for Qualcomm—in mobile communications chips and technology licensing— is in the most open of global of marketplaces where technology development and standardization is mainly undertaken by a few and then offered freely, but not gratis, for implementation and use by all comers. China has explicit industrial strategy for innovation and manufacture in this and other industrial sectors: it uses various measures including antitrust enforcement in support of that and to the advantage of Chinese companies. For example, it allegedly forces foreign companies to surrender their IP to obtain Chinese market access. According the Wall Street Journal, a White House official said that the harm to the US from this is $48 billion. In order to settle an antitrust dispute with the NDRC, Qualcomm paid a $975 million fine and reduced its patent-licensing charges in China.

The Trump administration is now threatening tariffs on $60 billion of imports and tighter restrictions on acquisitions and technology transfers. One objective is to stem the purported intellectual property theft.

The US and other western nations have lacked coherent industrial policy for the technology sector, while antitrust policy and enforcement has also been inconsistent and has undermined IP. It was high time to start doing something that would underpin America’s technology and IP leadership, rather that erode it as had occurred for SEPs under the previous administration with President Obama.

How to make America great again in SEPs


The need is to uphold patent rights everywhere rather than for national trade protectionism which will provoke harmful tit-for-tat retaliation.

As I have shown elsewhere, US tech titans including Alphabet, Apple, Facebook and Netflix have done very well for themselves, including strong revenue growth over the last few years, based on low-cost communications platforms providing exponential growth in data consumption. However, revenues for network operators, network equipment providers and patent licensors have been flat.
Notwithstanding the above, under the previous presidential administration, and against the interests of patent-rights holders:
  • The FTC issued a complaint against Qualcomm’s chip sales and licensing practices in the final hours of the Obama administration despite significant dissent.
  • President Obama vetoed an ITC exclusion order against some old iPhone models, in litigation between Samsung and Apple, ostensibly for reasons of public interest.
  • The Department of Justice blessed, with a business review letter, patent-policy changes at IEEE in 2015 that put concerted pressure on all SEP holders to change the way patents are licensed and that make injunctions more difficult to obtain.

Thankfully, there are signs the tide is turning against some anti-patent manoeuvres under the Trump administration with Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim at the Department of Justice Antitrust Division and with new guidelines on SEP licensing from the European Commission.
Patent licensing charges are allegedly harmful because these supposedly must be passed on to end consumers in higher device prices. However, the only American handset OEM is Apple. It prices its products at high levels the market will bear, resulting in stellar profit margins, rather than pricing based on its costs. While Apple stopped royalty payments to Qualcomm in the first quarter of 2017, according to Strategy Analytics, average iPhone prices rose 6.3 percent from $645 in 2016 to $686 in 2017.

IAM blogger, Richard Lloyd wrote: ‘If Trump really wants to protect Qualcomm’s long-term prospects perhaps he should get on the phone to Apple.’ The President should also ensure the FTC’s action against Qualcomm is withdrawn. That might similarly discourage other agencies around the world from diminishing the rights of SEP owners wherever they reside.