Distribution, Competition, and Antitrust / Intellectual Property (IP) Law

Should Antitrust Regulate Trolls?

Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my so...

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Professor Michael Carrier has written a recent op-ed over at arstechnica suggesting that the answer is “yes.”  Highlights:

“To start, [the antitrust agencies] can challenge concerning aggregations of patents . . . . [M]assive patent portfolios can be used offensively and can be valuable because of their size rather than the validity of each patent. These portfolios can have anticompetitive effects, including holdup, raised rivals’ costs, increased price, and reduced innovation.”

“The agencies could also promote transparency. Much troll activity today is hidden beneath a labyrinth of shell companies . . . .  Given this, how could potential targets engage in licensing negotiations or evaluate patent portfolios? The agencies must be able to shine sunlight on this subterranean network, obtaining complete information from patent acquisitions, among other conduct, to determine competitive effects.”

“It seems particularly slippery for trolls to avoid promises made by their predecessors. The agencies could prohibit transfers to trolls that refuse to adhere to promises to keep licensing costs reasonable.”

The article discusses other ideas as well, and also suggests that Section 5 of the FTC Act could be used where “certain trolls have market power in technology (licensing) markets, do not offer non-trivial efficiencies, and cause competitive harm that results in higher prices or reduced innovation for consumers.”

(Note: some people prefer the term “patent assertion entities,” or PAEs, over the term “trolls.”)

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