[Update: the FTC did file a reply brief. Link here]
All the briefs are in on the FTC petition for cert in its antitrust case against Rambus, (unless the FTC decides to file a reply brief, which is unlikely to change things much). I’ve added the Rambus opposition to the Rambus Group page on scribd.com, here. Now its time for the antitrust community to hold its breath and see whether the Court takes the case. Some knowledgeable commentators have opined that FTC/Rambus case has the best chance of any antitrust case obtaining review this year, but that plus a dime will get you …. well, nothing I guess. If the petition is allowed, it will be very exciting times for antitrust and standards setting law and policy wonks.
In federal court in Boston the Gatehouse Media v. New York Times case (described in these two (1, 2) earlier posts) has settled, as I suspected it would. The settlement agreement (or a preliminary agreement which is binding in the event a “definitive agreement” is not reached), is on scribd.com, here. It appears that this agreement was not intended to be made public (at least not yet), but apparently someone leaked it, so it’s public now.
As I read this, Gatehouse prevailed, hands down over the NYT/Boston.com. Gatehouse will erect “technical solutions” to prevent Boston.com from copying the Gatehouse original content, and Boston.com will respect those “solutions.” If a “solution” proves ineffective, Gatehouse will notify Boston.com, and Boston.com will back off right away. Why the parties went about it in this manner (which implicates DMCA-like anti-circumvention) I’m not sure, but I appears to accomplish the same result as if the NYT/Boston.com simply said “we won’t copy your ledes.”
From what I can seek, Boston.com/yourtown has already dropped its ledes and links to the Gatehouse sites, at least based on a quick sampling.
[postscript: here is a link to the report of Gatehouse’s copyright expert, Douglas Lichtman, Professor of Law, UCLA. The report is an analysis of the case under copyright fair use principles, and a rebuttal of the NYT/Boston.com’s unclean hands argument]
In December 2008, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a petition for certiorari in the Rambus case. There are two central issues in the petition. First, what is the standard of causation needed to connect deceptive conduct with the acquisition of monopoly power? And second, do higher prices in standard-setting organizations (SSOs) present competitive harm? . . . [continue reading]
When old engineers (and old lawyers) sit around decades from now reminiscing about patent and antitrust law in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the name of Rambus is sure to come up. The topic will not be the Rambus DRAM (or RDRAM) chip technologies, but rather the massive volume of litigation that Rambus set off as result of its alleged “patent hold-up” actions and its patent enforcement efforts.
Rambus, the lawyers on either side of its many cases, the courts, antitrust experts and economists, and of course investors in Rambus’ stock (a particularly loyal and attentive group), have debated the pros and cons and nuances of these lawsuits for years, and during this season (late 2008) an important and timely Rambus case is taking a run at the Supreme Court.
The FTC adminstrative action against Rambus, which bothAndy Updegroveand Ihave written about at length in the past, involves somewhat arcane issues of single-firm conduct under Section 2 of the Sherman Act. However, the case also exists at a level that doesn’t require a degree in law and economics to understand – Rambus is accused of of withholding from an important standards-setting organization (SSO) the fact that it had pending patent applications, resulting in adoption of the Rambus technology as a standard, following which Rambus used it patents to “hold up” the industry for unreasonable royalties.
What a wonderful blend of issues for lawyers and economists to dive into: patent law, antitrust law, conspiracies to deceive, very large sums of money (in the form of royalties potentially owed to Rambus by industry players), and all of this during the technology and stock market vortex of the 1990s and 2000s. Is it any wonder that Rambus’ litigation has attracted so much attention?
In context, the Federal Trade Commission case has been just one of many fronts on which Rambus has been forced to battle. As discussed here, the Federal Trade Commission found that Rambus’ actions toward the SSO was deceptive and violated the antitrust laws by enabling Rambus to gain monopoly power. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the FTC early this year on highly technical legal grounds that involved what some observers thought was a misapplication of the antitrust laws. However, no matter which side you’re on, it’s difficult to deny that the case raises legal issues that could benefit from clarification by the Supreme Court. Now, the FTC has asked the Supreme Court to review the case.
Persuading the Supreme Court to review a case is harder than getting into Harvard. In its most recent term the Court decided about 70 cases, out of over 7,000 appealed. However, like admissions at Harvard, the odds aren’t quite so bad once you eliminate the cases that had no chance of review and shouldn’t have been appealed in the first place – in effect “Hail Mary” appeals.
Many people are hopeful that the FTC/Rambus case will be accepted by the Court. The FTC/Rambus case certainly falls within the “first in class, perfect SAT scores” category, to stretch the analogy. This is a rare opportunity, these advocates believe, for the Court to clarify the law of “single firm” monopoly conduct. And, the standards setting industry believes that the case presents critical issues necessary to the health of standards setting, an area of domestic and international cooperation whose importance is hard to overstate. On the opposite side of the case, Rambus advocates argue that Rambus is the victim of a government witch hunt that lacks any merit, and conclude that the D.C. Circuit was correct to reverse the FTC and set matters straight.
In addition to the petition of various companies urging the Court to take the case (Hewlett Packard, Cisco, Sun and Oracle), the Rambus group page holds the petition filed by our firm last week, which was written by Andy Updegrove. The SSO petition was written on behalf of 19 standards setting organizations representing over 13,000 members, and it emphasizes the practical importance of this appeal – its importance to the “law of SSOs”, for lack of a better term.
Will the Court take this case? We should know soon. I’ll continue to add amici petitions and, of course, Rambus’s opposition to the request for Supreme Court review, which will be forthcoming soon, to the Rambus group page, as they appear.
At least one FTC Commissioner recently stated that he would support an appeal:
As I said earlier, I personally support a petition for certiorari in Rambus. I think the D.C. Circuit’s decision is wrong and given the fact that it rests on important legal principles respecting causation in Section 2 cases. I think its implications are much broader than the standard setting context. The petition is due in mid- November and it is my hope that the Solicitor General weighs in to support us on this important effort.