Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Technical standards that are agreed within a Standard Development Organization (SDO) often cover several ‘essential’ patents for the implementation of a standard (i.e., Standard Essential Patents, SEPs). In order to allow for the standard implementation, the SEP holder commits to license its patents to any potential licensee on the basis of Fair and Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) conditions. In view of the recent ruling of the UK Supreme Court in Unwired Planet and the judgement of the German Bundesgerichtshof in Sisvel v. Haier, the paper assumes that the FRAND commitment implies a ‘range’ rather than a ‘single’ royalty rate. On the other hand, a royalty rate ‘beyond the outer boundary of the range’ should be considered ‘unfair’, and thus incompatible with the FRAND commitment. Besides representing a breach of the FRAND commitment, an ‘unfair’ royalty rate might also be considered an abuse of a dominant position by the SEP holder, in breach of Art. 102(a) TFEU. This paper analyses whether, and under what circumstances, Art. 102(a) TFEU can be relied upon by a competition authority in Europe to sanction a case where an ‘unfair’ royalty rate has been set by the SEP holder. To this regard, the paper provides a detailed analysis of the EU Court of Justice’s jurisprudence on Art. 102(a) TFEU. In particular, the latter jurisprudence is relied as a ‘yardstick’ to assess ‘when’ competition policy should sanction a request of unfair royalty rate by the SEP holder, ‘how’ a competition agency should assess the case and, eventually, ‘what’ remedies the competition authority might adopt.