Why Patent Hold-Up Does Not Violate Antitrust Law
Owners of standard essential patents (SEPs) are cast as villains for engaging in “patent hold-up,” i.e., taking advantage of the fact that they negotiate royalties with implementer-licensees that already have made sunk investments in the standard. In contrast to “patent ambush,” patent hold-up involves no standard-setting misconduct or harm to any competitive process, and thus cannot violate antitrust law. Commentators taking a contrary positions confuse the ends of antitrust law with its means. Antitrust law promotes consumer welfare only by protecting competition. Casting aside this core principle would expose business decisions, including ordinary price setting, to judicial oversight. Commitments made by SEP owners in the standard-setting process, however, should be enforced, and they are enforced. Without an antitrust cause of action, implementers invoke the powers of the courts to resolve royalty disputes over SEPs.