Standard Setting, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Role of Antitrust in Regulating Incomplete Contracts

Forthcoming 80 (1) Antitrust Law Journal (2015)

41 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2014 Last revised: 1 Oct 2014

See all articles by Joanna Tsai

Joanna Tsai

Charles River Associates (CRA)

Joshua D. Wright

Lodestar Law and Economics

Date Written: July 18, 2014


A large and growing number of regulators and academics, while recognizing the benefits of standardization, view skeptically the role standard setting organizations (SSOs) play in facilitating standardization and commercialization of intellectual property rights (IPRs). Competition agencies and commentators suggest specific changes to current SSO IPR policies to reduce incompleteness and favor an expanded role for antitrust law in deterring patent holdup. These criticisms and policy proposals are based upon the premise that the incompleteness of SSO contracts is inefficient and the result of market failure rather than an efficient outcome reflecting the costs and benefits of adding greater specificity to SSO contracts and emerging from a competitive contracting environment. We explore conceptually and empirically that presumption. We also document and analyze changes to eleven SSO IPR policies over time. We find that SSOs and their IPR policies appear to be responsive to changes in perceived patent holdup risks and other factors. We find the SSOs’ responses to these changes are varied across SSOs, and that contractual incompleteness and ambiguity for certain terms persist both across SSOs and over time, despite many revisions and improvements to IPR policies. We interpret this evidence as consistent with a competitive contracting process. We conclude by exploring the implications of these findings for identifying the appropriate role of antitrust law in governing ex post opportunism in the SSO setting.

Keywords: Standard setting, antitrust, patents, intellectual property, patent holdup, contracts, FTC, DOJ, injunctions

JEL Classification: K21, L40, D23, D42

Suggested Citation

Tsai, Joanna and Wright, Joshua D., Standard Setting, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Role of Antitrust in Regulating Incomplete Contracts (July 18, 2014). Forthcoming 80 (1) Antitrust Law Journal (2015), Available at SSRN: or

Joanna Tsai

Charles River Associates (CRA) ( email )

1201 F. St. NW
Ste. 700
Washington, DC 20004
United States

Joshua D. Wright (Contact Author)

Lodestar Law and Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 751
Mclean, VA 22101
United States

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