Following public consultation rounds on the regulation of standard-essential patents (SEPs) in the United States and the United Kingdom, the European Union followed suit and published a “Call for Evidence” concerning an impact assessment on the European Union’s new framework for SEPs on 14 February 2022.
The Call for Evidence is part of the European Commission’s proposal for new EU legislation and non-legislative actions, which is expected to be adopted in the fourth quarter of 2022. While the European Union remains open on how exactly a system for licensing SEPs can be made more balanced, fair, transparent, predictable and efficient, there are already signs of a stricter approach in European competition policy towards dominant positions, including SEP holders, in high-tech markets. The European Commission stresses that the expected entry into force of the European unitary patent system requires an initiative at EU level, as initiatives at national level will not apply to unitary patents. Key elements of discussion include:
- Enhancing transparency of SEPs by: (1) requiring the disclosure and update of certain information to improve publicly available information and (2) introducing a system for independent third-party assessments of essentiality under the management and control of an independent body
- Providing clarity on various aspects of obligating SEP holders to offer licenses on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (F/RAND terms) by developing guiding principles and/or processes for clarifying the concept of F/RAND, negotiating F/RAND terms and conditions and determining appropriate level(s) of licensing in a value chain
- Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of enforcement by incentivizing mediation, conciliation and/or arbitration.
The European Commission is accepting feedback in all 24 EU languages until 9 May 2022 (midnight Brussels time), and is particularly interested to hear opinions of SEP holders, SEP implementers, patent lawyers, legal practitioners, academics, patent-pool administrators, industry associations, start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), standard development organizations (SDOs), consultants, policy makers and any other stakeholders that have experience with SEPs. All feedback will be published online.
Practice Note: Stakeholders should consider participating in the consultation, irrespective of whether they are more in the SEP holders’ or implementers’ camp, and even if their EU business may be limited. In times of global licensing campaigns, dialogues between the European Union and the United States on competition policy in the technology sector, and EU courts assuming jurisdiction in global SEP disputes, a future EU SEP policy will have an impact also elsewhere around the globe.