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December 13, 2017

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FTC Acting Chairman Ohlhausen Signals Potentially Reduced Role for Antitrust Oversight of Intellectual Property Disputes

WHAT HAPPENED

  • On Friday, October 13, acting FTC chairman Maureen Ohlhausen delivered a speech at the Hillsdale College Free Market Forum titled, “Markets, Government, and the Common Good,” highlighting her view on the intersection between IP and antitrust domestically and abroad.

  • Chairman Ohlhausen’s position, that IP rights must be vigorously protected, is in line with her long-held belief that some enforcement of antitrust laws, especially abroad, has been overzealous when it comes to intellectual property.

  • In 2012, Ohlhausen objected to the FTC’s decision to require Robert Bosch GmbH to refrain from pursuing injunctions on certain SEPs (standard essential patents), and she wrote a dissenting opinion on the commission’s consent agreement with Google Inc. and Motorola Mobility Inc. requiring Google to withdraw claims for injunctive relief on SEPs.

  • In Friday’s speech, she argued that though “foreign [governments] take or allow the taking of American proprietary technologies without due payment,” the US should continue to protect patent rights and avoid punishing a company for “a unilateral refusal to assist its competitors.”

  • Ohlhausen also addressed what she termed the current “age of IP skepticism” as it relates to patent-assertion entities (PAEs).

  • She concluded that while some minor changes may be appropriate to promote innovation in the face of “Litigation PAEs” employing nuisance litigation techniques, these changes should be “narrowly tailored to address observed behavior.”

  • She voiced support for case management practices that could mitigate litigation cost asymmetries between PAE plaintiffs and defendants, increased transparency, and rules encouraging courts to stay litigation by PAEs when parallel proceedings are already underway, but eschewed more drastic measures such as the creation of “new, specialized guidelines to address particular types of IP disputes,” which, she argued, are unsupported by the available evidence.

  • In her view, “the key to addressing the US patent system lies in incremental adjustment where necessary based on a firm empirical foundation.”

WHAT THIS MEANS

  • Ohlhausen’s concern that certain antitrust enforcement “inappropriately morphs antitrust law into a tool for price regulation” is a notable policy direction that could make the FTC less inclined to pursue cases involving alleged violations of SEPs.

  • Under her direction, any changes forthcoming at the FTC are likely to be minor adjustments reflecting the belief that protecting patent rights is “fundamental to advanc[ing] innovation.”

Matthew Evola also contributed to the article.

© 2017 McDermott Will & Emery

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About this Author

Partner

Stefan M. Meisner is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Washington, D.C., office.  Stefan is co-chair of the Firm’s Electronic Data Management, Privacy & Discovery group.

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