29 November 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

EU Commission unveils SEP plans

The EU Commission has published its communication on standard-essential patents (SEPs), outlining key objectives for SEPs in Europe.

The communication was published this morning, with the EU outlining its two main objectives: “incentivising the development and inclusion of top technologies in standards, by preserving fair and adequate return for these contributions”, as well as “ensuring smooth and wide dissemination of standardised technologies based on fair access conditions”.

Both the App Association (ACT) and IP Europe, which were previously at loggerheads over the future of SEPs in Europe, have welcomed the communication, with ACT president Morgan Reed describing the communication as a “positive outcome”.

Executive secretary of IP Europe, Francisco Mingorance, commented that the group was “pleased that [the] communication recognises that vital role that standards play in supporting innovation and growth in Europe, as well as the Digital Single Market”.

In its communication, the EU Commission suggested that licensing and enforcement of SEPs “is not seamless and may lead to conflicts”.

It said: “Technology users accuse SEP holders of charging excessive licensing fees based on weak patent portfolios and of using litigation threats. SEP holders claim that technology users 'free ride' on their innovations and consciously infringe IP rights without engaging in good faith licensing negotiations.”

“Disputes and delays in negotiations between technological users and holders may ultimately delay the widespread use of key standardised technologies. This can hamper the development of interconnected products in Europe, eventually affecting the competitiveness of the EU economy.”

The commission set out four key principles to maintain its two objectives, including increased transparency and information for SEPs, generalised principles for Fair Reasonable and Non Discriminatory (FRAND) terms, a more predictable enforcement environment for SEPs, and the integration of open source projects and standards development processes.

ACT’s Reed commented: “We appreciate the clear recognition the commission gives to the role that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups play in the innovation process.”

“We applaud the commission for providing transparent and predictable conditions for SEP licensing, and preserving the value of open standards built to protect IP for all, while and at the same time respecting everyone's IP.."

He concluded: "This communication is a powerful signpost for licensing SEPs and it will help to unlock the potential of 5G and the internet of things in Europe. Credit must be paid to the commission and the SMEs who made their case over the past six months.”

IP Europe’s Mignorance said: “Despite suggestions of industry winners or losers in the media, standardisation is at its heart an exercise in balance and collaborative innovation.”

He added: “Today is a good day for consumers around the world, as well as the many businesses—small and large—that will rely on FRAND access to the 5G open technology standard to create new products and services for the upcoming internet of things.”

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