08 November 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

IP Europe and ACT clash over ‘licence to all’ SEP system

IP Europe has claimed that, if implemented, a ‘licence to all’ system for standard essential patents (SEPs) in Europe could be a “licence to kill” for innovation in Europe.

The research and development organisation, whose corporate members include Airbus, Ericsson, Nokia and Orange, claimed that the EU Commission’s current draft on SEPs, if adopted, would “harm European inventors and threaten Europe’s position as a leader on the technology behind 5G and the internet of things”.

The commission released a roadmap for SEPs in Europe in April, and opened a feedback period in which it accepted views from interested parties. The feedback period closed on 8 May.

In a blog post, IP Europe said that a ‘licence to all’ policy is a “new, untested, licensing policy that would significantly harm the European innovation sector and could precipitate a decline in overall European research and development of 8 percent”.

It explained: “‘Licence to all’ is inefficient, it exponentially multiplies required licence negotiations and legal fees, delays and reduces access to the latest connectivity standards to consumers, and introduces questions about compatibility with the existing legal framework.”

Francisco Mingorance, executive secretary of IP Europe, commented: “It seems extraordinary that the commission would harm European innovators by imposing untested and damaging licensing requirements based on false assertions and partial information.”

He added: “If a company market abuse exists, European competition authorities already have the tools at their disposal to sanction the culprits and there is no need to propose untested policy changes that ultimately benefit non-European companies at the expense of Europe’s innovators.”

In it’s own blog post, the App Association (ACT) replied to IP Europe’s contentions, claiming that IP Europe gave “its favourite false narrative a new coat of paint by suggesting that the bedrock fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) requirement of ‘licence for all’ equates to some kind of ‘licence to kill’.”

It said: “It’s a clever turn of phrase designed to appeal to European Commission officials debating the final shape of a communication on the licensing of standard essential patents.”

ACT said that IP Europe’s “continued marketing of this fiction” prompted a response from Karl Heinz Rosenbrock, ex-director general of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

In an article earlier this year, Rosenbrock explained: “ETSI adopted the clear and unambiguous policy of requiring that FRAND licences be offered to all interested comers/potential licensees who provide products or services designed to be compatible with the chosen standard, irrespective of their position in the industry or a chain of distribution.”

This isn’t the first time IP Europe and ACT have clashed over SEPs in Europe.

IP Europe recently proposed an industry code of conduct on licensing SEPs for 5G and the internet of things at a European Committee for Standardisation and Electrotechnical Standardisation workshop in Paris.

The group produced a draft project plan for a code of conduct, which will establish best practice SEP licensing arrangements for the internet of things marketplace.

But, ACT said that the workshop was intended to provide a forum for a “narrow group of companies with business models based on the licensing of SEPs” and didn’t represent a majority opinion.

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