Patent Injunctions and the FRAND Commitment: A Case Study in the ETSI Intellectual Property Rights Policy

ABSTRACT:

Many academics and government officials claim that owners of patents on standardized technologies, such as 5G or Wi-Fi, cannot obtain injunctions as a remedy for infringement of their patents. They believe this is mandated in the contractual commitment by an owner of a standard essential patent (SEP) to license on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. This conventional wisdom is profoundly mistaken. FRAND agreements do not prohibit SEP owners from receiving injunctions for continuing infringement of their patents. One of the oldest, exemplary FRAND agreements evinces this basic legal truth: the FRAND commitment set forth by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). According to the plain text, contractual context, and historical provenance of the ETSI FRAND commitment, it is clear that it does not prohibit injunctions as remedies for infringement of SEPs. In recent years, this has been confirmed by courts in jurisdictions throughout the world repeatedly issuing injunctions to SEP owners under the ETSI FRAND commitment. Unfortunately, the mistaken belief that FRAND prohibits injunctions persists among American academics and courts. It is important to clarify the legal requirements of FRAND and the availability of injunctive relief for SEP owners because normative theories or economic models about SEP licensing and litigation should be based in legal facts. Otherwise, incorrect claims about FRAND allegedly prohibiting injunctive remedies will continue to proliferate among academics and officials, provoking unnecessary litigation and unjustified agency actions by antitrust officials. These legal errors impose costs on innovators and implementers alike, which undermine the efficient growth in the global innovation economy.