WASHINGTON The Justice Department said Monday (April 30) it will not oppose on antitrust grounds the IEEE's proposed policy for disclosing patents in standards deliberations.
IEEE's policy would allow patent holders to publicly agree to specific restrictions on future licensing terms and conditions for intellectual property considered essential to an IEEE standard.
In a legal opinion sought by the IEEE known as a "business review letter," the Justice Department's Antitrust Division said "the proposed policy may enable IEEE to make better informed decisions when formulating standards that will benefit consumers."
The Justice Department issued a similar letter last fall in response to a request by VITA, which sets standards for embedded systems in aircraft, satellites and other mission-critical applications. VITA has implemented a mandatory patent disclosue policy for new standards.
IEEE's voluntary patent disclosure policy would: allow patent holders to either choose not to provide licensing information; state that its patents are not essential to an IEEE standard; declare that it will not assert patent claims against those implementing an IEEE standard; or commit to license its essential patent claims under the legal standard of reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.
U.S. and other antitrust experts said the Justice Department review letters are "case specific" and should not be viewed as broad antitrust guidelines. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission antitrust enforcers have stressed that they will apply the antitrust "rule of reason" to determine whether a standards group is operating within U.S. antitrust laws.
Generally speaking, the antitrust "rule of reason" serves as a primary means for weighing pro- and anti-competitive effects.
IEEE has so far not responded to requests to comment on the Justice Department letter.