CONSIDERATIONS IN ASSESSING A STANDARDS
DEVELOPING ORGANIZATION'S INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS POLICIES IN ADVANCE
George T. Willingmyre, P.E.
June 14, 2002
In a January, 1998 article INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS AS A FACTOR IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF STANDARDs GTW Associates outlined four considerations about intellectual property rights policies a participant in a standards development process should assess before participating in the standards process covered by the policy. Since 1998 the IPR polices of many organizations have evolved, there has been significant new private sector litigation and the FTC is conducting related hearings and investigating matters similar to the landmark FTC consent agreement with Dell Computer In that case, FTC charged that Dell restricted competition in the personal computer industry and undermined the standard-setting process by threatening to exercise undisclosed patent rights against computer companies.
The 1998 paper compared and contrasted the policies at that time of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The four considerations explored were:
action expected to occur when a company claims that its IPR is necessary to meet the standard, but the IPR will not be made available on a non-discriminatory basis
the requirement for and specificity of the statement that an IPR holder will agree to license its IPR
time during the development of a standard at which an IPR holder should disclose its IPR and the time at which a statement of commitment to non-discriminatory fair and reasonable licensing must be made and
the role of cautionary statements about IPR to be included in the introductory material for standards where IPR is a consideration.
This article builds and
expands upon the four factors above with 9 additional considerations a company
may find prudent to contemplate about the intellectual property
rights policies of a standards development process before
participating in that process. A separate document "Intellectual
Property Rights Policies of selected
The 9 questions below do not have single correct or incorrect answers for all situations.
These are questions that any company should contemplate given its own circumstances and
competitive position before participating in a standards process. There
may be "better" or "worse" answers depending on the specific situation. These
matters are not amenable to a "one size fits all"
treatment. When the IPR policies and organizations
identified at "Intellectual
Property Rights Policies of selected
1) What is the exact text of the relevant policy and what is the exact text of any related guidelines, procedures, educational references? Each word in the IPR policies of organizations was or should have been carefully chosen. These words have been and will in the future continue to be the grist of private sector and perhaps government litigation. What is the process of establishing the policy? What is competence and experience of the participants in that process? If there is an IPR committee consider joining it. Participation in such activities provides early warning of changes. Is there an "appeal" process for actions and decisions contrary to your interests? Is the process being followed? ...by the organization administering the policy ...by the committee leadership ...by the participants?
2) Is there an explicit or implicit "IP bias" in the organization... in the policy? Any standards policy on IPR balances the needs and interests of two distinct classes of parties. There are the needs and rights of participants in the process and of the eventual user of the standard to access and use the standard without undue hardship or unforeseen difficulties. And there are the the rights and interests of holders of intellectual property that may be essential or related to the standard to capitalize their inventions. Standards organizations have distinct cultures. These cultures can tip the balance one way or the other in a policy. For example, are there words to discourage utilization of any intellectual property? Or are the words instructions how IPR is to be treated in the case IPR is involved? Is the policy "friendly" or "unfriendly" to holders of IPR? What is in your interest as a participant in the process...are you likely to have IPR or are you likely to need access to IPR? What are the risks and costs to you as an IPR holder or or as an IPR seeker of participating in the process?
3) What is the track record if any of the organization with respect to its policy? Have there been any IPR controversies in the past involving the organization? How were they handled? Have there been previous versions of the organization's policy? What was the previous text? Why and how did it change? See for example Evolution of the ANSI Patent Policy and Evolution of the IETF Patent Policy If there were previous versions, what are the implications of the current and previous policies for standards developed under the previous policy? What does the organization say about IPR claims on any of its standards? Does it take any position on such claims such as when W3Ccalled for outside legal review of an IPR claim in order to counsel its members the IPR was not essential? Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) technology does not infringe a patent held by the Intermind Corporation.
What if any statements about IPR
claims does the organization publish on or in the applicable standard?
Does the organization accept or deny liability or responsibility for any
IPR claim? ANSI's statement is "By
publication of this standard, no position is taken with respect to the
validity of this claim or of any
patent rights in connection therewith. The patent holder has, however,
filed a statement of willingness to grant a license under these rights on
reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions to applicants
desiring to obtain such a license. Details may be obtained from the
patent rights in connection therewith. The patent holder has, however, filed a statement of willingness to grant a license under these rights on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions to applicants desiring to obtain such a license. Details may be obtained from the standards developer"ETSI's comparable statement is , "Pursuant to the ETSI IPR Policy, no investigation, including IPR searches, has been carried out by ETSI. No guarantee can be given as to the existence of other IPRs not referenced in ETSI SR 000 314 (or the updates on the ETSI Web server) which are, or may be, or may become, essential to the present document" ETSI further explicitly elaborates in its questions and answers:
Question 4 Does ETSI made an evaluation of the patent declarations received?
Answer 4: The information that appears on the ETSI IPR database reflects the ETSI Members' declarations with regards to Intellectual Property Rights that they have considered essential for a particular ETSI STANDARD. Because these IPR declarations are made on Bona Fide Basis, ETSI is not in a position to assess the essential character of the patents declared.
Yet these seemingly clear disclaimers are subject of much current attention in Europe by a company contending that an IPR declaration made to an ETSI standard as "essential" and listed in the ETSI database is not really an essential IPR needed to meet the standard in the opinion of the company.
What role does the organization play if there are disputes about the wording or implementation of the policy? Does the organization facilitate or in any way involve itself in licensing of essential IPR from an IPR holder? Is the organization registered under the National Cooperative Research and Production Act to limit its Antitrust liability?
4) What is the action expected to occur when a company claims that its IPR is necessary to meet the standard, but the IPR will not be made available on a non-discriminatory basis (or on the basis that the policy describes as necessary)?. The treatment in this scenario is important to any company who for whatever reason prefers that a standard NOT refer to its technology. What are the practical market place implications of any such action? For example a common case is for the policy to requires the standard be "withdrawn" in the case of essential IPR for which acceptable licensing terms can not be acquired Another option is to return the document to the technical committee. Another option is to allow for a general assembly decision to publish the standard with information about the patent claim. Participants may use a "claim" of IPR and statement of unwillingness to licence the IPR as a means to block progress on the standard. How is the case handled when such a claim may be debatable? In an August 2001 letter ISO Director M.A. Smith and IEC Technical Director J-P Brotons-Dias touched this point, "let us comment first on the claim to hold patents where there are none. As you no doubt know, the boiler pate text we include in ISO and IEC (and ISO/IEC) standards includes a number of disclaimers. One of these is that ISO and IEC as relevant take no position with respect to the validity or scope of identified patents. One consequence of this is that we consider that it is the responsibility of the end user to decide whether their implementation will require them to seek a license or not and we do not expect ISO or IEC committees to make a determination about the relevance of a particular patent. "
5) Are you swimming with Sharks or Dolphins? What companies and individuals will participate in the standards process covered by the IPR policy? What has been the track record of those companies and persons with regard to standards setting? It has been argued that there exists a self policing process within the standards development community. Some had said that companies and participants that have a record of abusing the standards process will be informally and unofficially "black-balled"
6) What is the requirement that IPR holder will disclose Intellectual property related to the standard? Some have stated that the ANSI policy itself does not "require" essential patents to be disclosed. The ANSI text narrowly addresses the case when the "Institute receives a notice that a proposed American National Standard may require the use of a patented invention." A narrow interpretation could be if no one has given ANSI a notice that IPR is involved, the procedures do not apply.
What are the words describing the IPR covered by the policy? Is it "IPR essential" to practice the standard or merely "IPR related" to the practice of the standard? Is there a definition of "essential?" According to the ETSI Rules of Procedure, Article 15.6), "ESSENTIAL" as applied to IPR means that it is not possible on technical (but not commercial) grounds, taking into account normal technical practice and the state of the art generally available at the time of standardization, to make, sell, lease, otherwise dispose of, repair, use or operate EQUIPMENT or METHODS which comply with a STANDARD without infringing that IPR.
Are there any other terms than "essential" used to describe IPR that should be disclosed? On the title page of ETSI standards the term "potentially essential" is used
IPRs essential or potentially essential to the present document may
have been declared to ETSI. The information pertaining to these essential
IPRs, if any, is publicly available for ETSI members and non-members, and can be found in ETSI SR 000 314: "Intellectual
Property Rights (IPRs); Essential, or potentially Essential, IPRs notified
to ETSI in respect of ETSI standards"
term "IPR" used or is the term more specific to patents, copyrights,
trademarks etc. Is there any particular time in the process when such IPR
"must" be disclosed or some default action might jeopardize the IPR? In
some cases, (See ECMA example in "Intellectual
Property Rights Policies of selected
6) What is the specificity and use of the disclosure requirement for Intellectual property related to the standard? Are there requirements for disclosing specific patent numbers and applications? Is the situation of patent applications covered or not? For example a participant in an ANSI accredited domestic standards process will most likely encounter the ANSI policy in this regard which addresses "If the Institute receives a notice that a proposed American National Standard may require the use of a patented invention" While the same participant in an ANSI accredited process for participation in an activity of the IEC or the ISO will encounter the ISO/IEC expectations for disclosing published patent applications " patent rights – defined as patents, utility models and other statutory rights based on inventions, including any published applications for any of the foregoing –" In an August 2001 letter ISO Director M.A Smith and IEC Technical Director J-P Brotons-Dias wrote, "We know there have been difficulties in the past caused by slightly different IPR policies practised by some national bodies (for example, some do not require that pending patents be declared whereas ISO and IEC do)" Are there any standard forms or language to be used? What is the organization's practice with regard to making public the IPR disclosures? How may such disclosures be found? Several organizations have state of the art web databases. Other major standards developers are unable even to produce a list of the standards for which there are IPR claims.
7) What does the policy say about the time during the development of a standard at which an IPR holder should or must disclose his IPR? and the time at which some statement of commitment for licensing should or must be made? Several years ago the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) proposed an IPR policy that would have required IPR holders to identify and agree to license IPRs that might be the subject of future ETSI standards. Thus just to secure the right to participate in ETSI standards committees required a commitment to license technology that might be adopted. US industry resisted this policy as going too far and ETSI abandoned the proposal. In ANSI's Guidelines for implementing its IPR policy, ANSI suggests procedures to encourage early disclosure and commitments to license, but does not define any time deadline other than that the licensing commitment statement must be obtained before the standard is accepted as an American National Standard. One of the procedures ANSI suggests is the addition of requests for disclosure and commitments to license during the several iterative ballots that are typical of a standards development process. IETF encourages, "all interested parties to bring to its attention, at the earliest possible time," such information. Each IETF standards document contains this invitation. Any contributor to an IETF standards activity represents that he has disclosed the existence of any IPR in the submission that may be reasonably known to him. Formerly, within IETF, an IPR holder had to agree to the non-discriminatory licensing agreement at the time a standards track document reached the "Proposed Standard" state of maturity. (See Evolution of the IETF Patent Policy) Now within IETF there is no fixed time period, however a standard may be held up where a deferral of the standard will help obtain the assurance of licensing. ANSI also suggests periodic notices to committee members and encouragement of any party (not just the IPR holder) to identify IPR relevant to a standard.
8) What does the policy say about the nature of license
commitment expected from IPR holder? In some cases a standard
form of disclosure and licensing commitment applies. Are these the only acceptable
forms of disclosure and commitment? What exactly are the
words used to describe the licensing statement?... Must the licensing
terms and conditions be explicitly stated in order to meet the requirement
of the policy? The IETF's former policy required a rights holder to
publish his terms and conditions on the Internet. Such terms had to be
judged reasonable, "considering the objective of the ISOC to assure
that all members of the Internet community will be able to operate under
the standards at a minimal cost." Every such license had to contain a
clause automatically modifying the terms of the license to be as favorable
as the terms of any other license under the Rights previously or later
granted by the Rights Holder. Now, the IETF Executive Director is
instructed to attempt to obtain a written assurance from the IPR holder
that licenses will be granted on "openly specified, reasonable.
Non-discriminatory terms." Claims of IPR; statements of assurances
about licenses to be made available; and results of attempts made to
secure such assurances are held by the IETF.
See Evolution of the IETF Patent Policy. ANSI's current policy requires of a patent
holder a statement of willingness to license under "Reasonable
terms and conditions that are demonstrably free of any unfair
" A previous ANSI
" A previous ANSIpolicy required confidential submittal to ANSI of the terms and condition of any such licenses, the number of independent licensees that have accepted the terms and conditions and the patent holder's basis for believing such terms and conditions are free of any unfair discrimination. See Evolution of the ANSI Patent Policy May granted licenses be differing to different licensees yet still be non discriminatory? For example if some license is granted during the process of standards setting in order to gain support for including IPR in the standard, would a different license term after the standard has been published with the essential IPR included be considered non-discriminatory? In one case may a patent cross license be a fair term while a specific royalty apply in another case? What are the nuances between various descriptions of the terms expected? For example compare the text as used by ISO/IEC "negotiate worldwide licences under his rights with applicants throughout the world on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and conditions" and the ANSI wording " a license will be made available to applicants under reasonable terms and conditions that are demonstrably free of any unfair discrimination" Is a licence required at all? May the conditions be "royalty free" yet still carry any other obligations such as reciprocity? What is the situation when there are multiple IPR claims? Is there and can there be "patent" pooling arrangement? May there exist other "conditions" in the license about use of any other IPR? Does the standards organization take any position when a license seeker does not feel that the terms and conditions the IPR holder is offering meet the statement the IPR holder made about those terms during the process? Who is to arbitrate in this case?
About the Author: George T. Willingmyre, P.E. is President of GTW Associates, a consulting firm specializing in international trade, standards policy and conformity assessment matters. Previously, Mr. Willingmyre was Vice President of Washington Operations for the American National Standards Institute. Willingmyre was involved in the public and private sector resolution of the early 1990s IPR ETSI IPR Undertaking controversy and advancing private sector views to the government negotiations of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. Willingmyre currently participates in the ANSI Patent Group, the ITU/T Directors ad hoc group on IPR; the IETF poised policy discussion list and served for 2 years on the W3C patent group. GTW Associates clients include Microsoft Corporation; DaimlerChrysler; European Commission; OECD, the Japan METI and various law firms involved in patent/IPR litigation.