Taking it to the Limit: Shifting U.S. Antitrust Policy Toward Standards Development
103 Minnesota L. Rev. Headnotes (Fall 2018)
11 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2018 Last revised: 23 Dec 2018
Date Written: July 23, 2018
In November 2017, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, chief of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division, gave a speech at University of Southern California provocatively entitled “Take it to the Limit: Respecting Innovation Incentives in the Application of Antitrust Law”. In this speech, Mr. Delrahim announced a new DOJ policy approach to the antitrust analysis of collaborative standard setting and standards-development organizations (SDOs) -- the trade associations and other groups in which industry participants cooperate to develop interoperability standards such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G and 5G, USB and the like. He explained that the DOJ had “strayed too far” in its focus on single firm conduct concerning standards, particularly the assertion of patents essential to the implementation of standards in technology products (“standards-essential patents” or “SEPs”), and that antitrust authorities should be more concerned with potential collusion by competitors within SDOs (i.e., an apparent shift in doctrinal focus from unilateral conduct under Section 2 of the Sherman Act to concerted action under Section 1 of the Sherman Act). One commentator described the DOJ policy shift announced by Mr. Delrahim as “a 180 degree turn” on SEP issues. The new policy also seems to put the enforcement priorities of the Antitrust Division at odds with those of the other principal U.S. antitrust enforcement agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and jeopardizes reliance of a long line of DOJ Business Review Letters outlining acceptable approaches to conduct such as forming patent pools. This article analyzes the contours of the emerging divide among U.S. antitrust agencies, as well as reactions to the “Take it to the Limit Speech” by industry, academics and Mr. Delrahim’s subsequent public statements.
Keywords: antitrust, DOJ, Business Review Letter, unilateral conduct, concerted action, standards, SDOs, FRAND, standards-essential patent, SEP, IEEE
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