Private Agreements for Coordinating Patent Rights: The Case of Patent Pools
Inventors and users of technology often enter into cooperative agreements for sharing their intellectual property in order to implement a standard or to avoid costly litigation. Over the past two decades, U.S. antitrust authorities have viewed pooling arrangements that integrate complementary, valid and essential patents as having procompetitive benefits in reducing prices, transactions costs, and the incidence of legal suits. Since patent pools are cooperative agreements, they also have the potential of suppressing competition if, for example, they harbor weak or invalid patents, dampen incentives to conduct research on innovations that compete with the pooled patents, foreclose competition from downstream product or upstream input markets, or raise prices on goods that compete with the pooled patents. In synthesizing the ideas advanced in the economic literature, this paper explores whether these antitrust concerns apply to pools with complementary patents and, if they do, the implications for competition policy to constrain them. Special attention is given to the application of the U.S. Department of Justice - Federal Trade Commission Guidelines for the Licensing of Intellectual Property (1995) and its companion Antitrust Enforcement and Intellectual Property Rights: Promoting Innovation and Competition (2007) to recent patent pool cases.
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