Standardisation and patent ambush: Potential liability under Australian competition law

Kylie Pappalardo and Nicolas Suzor, “Standardisation and patent ambush: Potential liability under Australian competition law” (2011) 18 CCLJ 267, here.

This article examines the problem of patent ambush in standard setting, where patent owners are sometimes able to capture industry standards in order to secure monopoly power and windfall profits. Because standardisation generally introduces high switching costs, patent ambush can impose significant costs on downstream manufacturers and consumers and drastically reduce the efficiency gains of standardisation.This article considers how Australian competition law is likely to apply to patent ambush both in the development of a standard (through misrepresenting the existence of an essential patent) and after a standard is implemented (through refusing to license an essential patented technology either at all or on reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) terms). This article suggests that non-disclosure of patent interests is unlikely to restrained by Part IV of the Trade Practices Act (TPA), and refusals to license are only likely to be restrained if the refusal involves leveraging or exclusive dealing. By contrast, Standard Setting Organisations (SSOs) which seek to limit this behaviour through private ordering may face considerable scrutiny under the new cartel provisions of the TPA. This article concludes that SSOs may be best advised to implement administrative measures to prevent patent hold-up, such as reviewing which patents are essential for the implementation of a standard, asking patent holders to make their licence conditions public to promote transparency, and establishing forums where patent licensees can complain about licence terms that they consider to be unreasonable or discriminatory. Additionally, the ACCC may play a role in authorising SSO policies that could otherwise breach the new cartel provisions, but which have the practical effect of promoting competition in the standards setting environment.