Taking it to the Limit: Shifting US Antitrust Policy Toward Standards Development

Posted by Social Science Research Network

Taking it to the Limit: Shifting US Antitrust Policy Toward Standards Development

By Jorge L. Contreras

In November 2017, US Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, chief of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division, gave a speech at University of Southern California provocatively entitled “Take it to the Limit: Respecting Innovation Incentives in the Application of Antitrust Law.” In this speech, Mr. Delrahim announced a new DOJ policy approach to the antitrust analysis of collaborative standard setting and standards-development organizations (SDOs) — the trade associations and other groups in which industry participants cooperate to develop interoperability standards such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G and 5G, USB and the like. He explained that the DOJ had “strayed too far” in its focus on single firm conduct concerning standards, particularly the assertion of patents essential to the implementation of standards in technology products (“standards-essential patents” or “SEPs”), and that antitrust authorities should be more concerned with potential collusion by competitors within SDOs (i.e., an apparent shift in doctrinal focus from unilateral conduct under Section 2 of the Sherman Act to concerted action under Section 1 of the Sherman Act). One commentator described the DOJ policy shift announced by Mr. Delrahim as “a 180 degree turn” on SEP issues. The new policy also seems to put the enforcement…

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