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06.02.18

US Antitrust Official Makan Delrahim Encourages Parasitic Patent Behaviour — Not Just Embargoes — in the Phones Domain and Beyond

Posted in America, Antitrust, Apple, Asia, Patents, RAND, Samsung at 8:47 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The lawyers might like it, but it’s bad for the customers (fewer choices, more expensive overall)

ZTE

Summary: US antitrust authorities and the European Commission have been speaking a lot lately about FRAND/SEP and SPCs; will they institute policies which benefit the monopolies or the market at large?

WE HAVE ALWAYS PREFERRED not to deal with politics but with purely technical matters, but when it comes to patent law it seems like politics are inevitable. The EPO, for example, is run by a crooked politician and the USPTO is connected directly to the government. See Makan Delrahim's history just before Trump put him in his current position; Trump put yet another rogue lobbyist (“swamp” is what he calls it) in charge and it hurts actual science and technology. Before Iancu was nominated and appointed by Trump his firm had worked for Trump too. That’s politics.

Makan Delrahim’s policies were mentioned by Richard Lloyd just before the weekend. It was about standard essential patents (SEPs). There was a discussion about it in Europe (FRAND/SEP and SPCs) because of the European Commission’s latest announcement (relegated to our daily links) and here’s what Lloyd wrote about a new letter:

A group of advocacy groups with close ties to the high-tech, automotive and retail industries have released a new paper calling into question several of the policy positions staked out by US antitrust chief Makan Delrahim regarding the application of antitrust law to the licensing of standard essential patents (SEPs). The paper follows a letter, signed by 77 former government officials and academics sent to Delrahim last week which also questioned several of the comments that the head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division has made since he was appointed last September.

We already wrote several posts bemoaning Delrahim’s policies, which seem to be influenced not by national interests but few private interests.

Speaking of politics, ZTE has been everywhere in the news lately; it isn’t all about patents, but the patents angle/aspect does get brought up on occasions, sometimes in relation to these lawsuits in Texas, which is becoming widely known for little but patent trolls and patent lawsuits. From a new report about it:

Despite the fact that its devices were recently banned in America, Chinese smartphone maker ZTE is now facing a patent infringement lawsuit in the US.

A Northern Texas US District Court judge recently denied the company’s motion to dismiss a patent infringement case filed by a Texas-based mobile software developer.

Seven Networks has alleged that ZTE’s firmware uses seven of its own patents regarding battery management, data transfers and notifications. The software developer’s complaint alleges that the ZTE Blade smartphone as well as its other devices, use parts of all seven patents to manage their battery life and handle notifications and data transfers.

[...]

ZTE has decided to halt production until the ban is lifted and its lawsuit with Seven Networks will likely complicate matters further.

As The Register put it (adding some politics), “ZTE can’t buy chips from America – but can still get sued for patent infringement in the US” (this is the headline).

Chinese phone maker ZTE will have to face a patent infringement lawsuit in the US, despite its handsets being effectively barred from sale in America.

On Wednesday a Northern Texas US District Court judge tossed the Chinese company’s motion to dismiss a patent infringement case filed by a Texas-based mobile software developer.

Seven Networks has alleged that ZTE’s firmware borrows from seven patents it holds regarding data transfers, battery management, and notifications.

Why would ZTE even wish to participate in the US market? ZTE and other Chinese companies have been the subject of a political smear campaign lately*. The same has been happening in Europe, especially in the UK.

Going back to the patent maximalist/lobbyist Richard Lloyd, he caught up with something we had covered regarding Panasonic. It’s feeding patent trolls in spite of all the openwashing. It’s likely that the trolls will soon go after companies like ZTE, suing perhaps through Texas (this has become common among Canadian patent trolls). Quoting Lloyd:

WiLAN has acquired a portfolio of patents from Panasonic in the latest in a long line of patent transfers between the Japanese tech giant and the Canadian NPE. The portfolio contains 34 patent families comprising 96 grants worldwide. It relates to security camera surveillance technologies, including camera systems used in retail, other commercial buildings and smart home applications. The transfer follows another transaction between the two in January which related to semiconductor memory technologies used in Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and NAND Flash Memory.

Nobody benefits from it; they artificially elevate the price of phones, which basically come with a ‘trolls tax’ attached.

As Samsung and Apple recently came to accept, this is mostly beneficial to patent lawyers. IAM named Samsung as the winner in Apple v Samsung, but the truth is that neither company won. Only their legal departments gained, as usual.

Well, having uploaded the relevant PDF, which can be found in Scribd [PDF], Florian Müller wrote that “Apple, Samsung trying to put patent dispute behind them through mediation” and to quote:

After last week’s Apple v. Samsung damages verdict (largely over design patents) in the Northern District of California, counsel for both parties told Judge Koh that they were both willing to put an end to their long-running dispute, which started with a complaint filed by Apple in April 2011 and quickly escalated into a global dispute with filings in ten countries.

[...]

What’s furthermore unclear (and no one may know at this stage) is whether the parties will try to resolve both California cases (the one that went to re-retrial in May, and a second one that turned into a roller coaster) or just the first one.

High-profile smartphone disputes between handset and platform makers (unlike litigation brought by non-practicing entities or increasingly-”trollified” former phone makers such as Nokia and Ericsson) haven’t recently resulted in license agreements. Instead, parties just dropped pending cases but reserved all options for bringing new complaints anytime, with some license agreements–or covenants not to sue–of extremely limited scope possibly having been part of some of those confidential deals. I would expect the same if Apple and Samsung finally called a truce. Apple obviously isn’t going to extend a design patent license to Samsung; the result might involve a license (or a convenant not to sue with the practical effect of a license) to a few software patents, though some have expired and others have been worked around. But by and large the question is just whether Apple will withdraw any pending claims. And, even if this works out now at long last, no one knows when hostilities might flare up again.

Müller speaks of “non-practicing entities or increasingly-”trollified” former phone makers such as Nokia and Ericsson,” but he might as well add Blackberry with Apple at its heels.

All these lawsuits sure fascinate patent lawyers because these make them richer. But at whose expense? We would be better off without all these legal battles. Can Delrahim, a lawyer himself, ever understand that?
____
* In addition to this, Microsoft blackmails ZTE and others. It’s suing or threatening to sue using patents just because they use Linux and Free/libre Open Source software.

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