Early this year the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice issued updated antitrust guidelines for the licensing of intellectual property that explain how the federal antitrust agencies evaluate licensing and related activities involving patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and know-how. This update modernizes the agencies’ 1995 IP Licensing Guidelines, ensuring that they continue to play a fundamental role in the agencies’ analysis of the licensing of intellectual property rights and provide guidance to the public and the business community about the agencies’ enforcement approach to intellectual property licensing.

The agencies had announced the proposed update of the IP Licensing Guidelines and made it available for public comment in August of last year. As described in that announcement, the proposed update reflected intervening changes in statutory and case law, as well as relevant enforcement and policy work, including the agencies’ 2010 Horizontal Merger Guidelines. During a 45-day comment period, the agencies received public comments from academics, private industries, law associations, and non-profit organizations.  After carefully reviewing and considering the comments, the agencies have now finalized the update.

“Today, the Commission reaffirms its commitment to an economically grounded approach to antitrust analysis of IP licensing,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “A strong and competitive IP licensing system benefits consumers and fosters innovation, by helping to ensure that inventors realize an appropriate return on their investment.”

“Our modernized IP Licensing Guidelines continue to apply an effects-based analysis that puts the focus on evaluating harm to competition, not on harm to any individual competitor, and support procompetitive intellectual property licensing that can promote innovation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “The comments we received were helpful in completing this update and also serve more broadly to better our understanding of some of today’s very complex antitrust issues that involve intellectual property rights.”

In response to the desire of some commenters for the guidelines to more specifically address additional IP licensing activities, the agencies reiterate that the flexible effects-based enforcement framework set forth in the IP Licensing Guidelines remains applicable to all IP areas. In addition, the business community may consult the wide body of DOJ and FTC guidance available to the public – in the form of published agency reports, statements, speeches, and enforcement decisions – which rely on this analytical framework and further illuminate each agency’s analysis of a variety of conduct involving intellectual property, including standards-setting activities and the assertion of standards-essential patents.

The updated IP Licensing Guidelines are available on the Department of Justice’s website and the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

The Commission vote issue the updated guidelines was 3-0.

The Federal Trade Commission develops policy initiatives on issues that affect competition, consumers, and the U.S. economy. Learn more at ftc.gov.

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