Archives For licensing

The Federalist Society has started a new program, The Executive Branch Review, which focuses on the myriad fields in which the Executive Branch acts outside of the constitutional and legal limits imposed on it, either by Executive Orders or by the plethora of semi-independent administrative agencies’ regulatory actions.

I recently posted on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) ongoing investigations into the patent licensing business model and the actions (“consent decrees”) taken by the FTC against Bosch and Google.  These “consent decrees” constrain Bosch’s and Google’s rights in enforce patents they have committed to standard setting organizations (these patents are called “standard essential patents”). Here’s a brief taste:

One of the most prominent participants at the FTC-DOJ workshop back in December, former DOJ antitrust official and UC-Berkeley economics professor Carl Shapiro, explained in his opening speech that there was still insufficient data on patent licensing companies and their effects on the market.  This is true; for instance, a prominent study cited by Google et al. in support of their request to the FTC to investigate patent licensing companies has been described as being fundamentally flawed on both substantive and methodological grounds. Even more important, Professor Shapiro expressed skepticism at the workshop that, even if there was properly acquired, valid data, the FTC lacked the legal authority to sanction patent licensing firms for being allegedly anti-competitive.

Commentators have long noted that courts and agencies have a lousy historical track record when it comes to assessing the merits of new innovation, whether in new products or new business models. They maintain that the FTC should not continue such mistakes by letting its decision-making today be driven by rhetoric or by the widespread animus against certain commercial firms. Restraint and fact-gathering, institutional virtues reflected in a government animated by the rule of law and respect for individual rights, are key to preventing regulatory overreach and harm to future innovation.

Go read the whole thing, and, while you’re at it, check out Commissioner Joshua Wright’s similar comments on the FTC’s investigations of patent licensing companies, which the FTC calls “patent assertion entities.”

Over at the blog for the Center for the Protection for Intellectual Property, Wayne Sobon, the Vice President and General Counsel of Inventergy, has posted an important essay that criticizes the slew of congressional bills that have been proposed in Congress in recent months. 

In A Line in the Sand on the Calls for New Patent Legislation, Mr. Sobon responds to the heavy-handed rhetoric and emotionalism that dominates the debate today over patent licensing and litigation. He calls for a return to the real first principles of the patent system in discussions about patent licensing, as well as for more measured thinking and analysis about the costs of uncertainty created by never-ending systemic changes from legislation produced by heavy lobbying by interested parties.  Here’s a small taste:

One genius of our patent system has been an implicit recognition that since its underlying subject matter, innovation, remains by definition in constant flux, the scaffolding of our system and the ability of all stakeholders to make reasonably consistent, prudent and socially efficient choices, should remain as stable as possible.  But now these latest moves, demanding yet further significant changes to our patent laws, threaten that stability.  And it is in fact systemic instability, from whatever source, that allows the very parasitic behaviors we have termed “troll”-like, to flourish.

It is silly and blindly ahistoric to lump anyone who seeks to license or enforce a patent right, but who does not themselves make a corresponding product, as a “troll.” 

Read the whole thing here. Mr. Sobon’s essay reflects similar concerns expressed by Commissioner Joshua Wright this past April on the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation of what the FTC identifies as “patent assertion entities.”

Earlier this month, Representatives Peter DeFazio and Jason Chaffetz picked up the gauntlet from President Obama’s comments on February 14 at a Google-sponsored Internet Q&A on Google+ that “our efforts at patent reform only went about halfway to where we need to go” and that he would like “to see if we can build some additional consensus on smarter patent laws.” So, Reps. DeFazio and Chaffetz introduced on March 1 the Saving High-tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes (SHIELD) Act, which creates a “losing plaintiff patent-owner pays” litigation system for a single type of patent owner—patent licensing companies that purchase and license patents in the marketplace (and who sue infringers when infringers refuse their requests to license). To Google, to Representative DeFazio, and to others, these patent licensing companies are “patent trolls” who are destroyers of all things good—and the SHIELD Act will save us all from these dastardly “trolls” (is a troll anything but dastardly?).

As I and other scholars have pointed out, the “patent troll” moniker is really just a rhetorical epithet that lacks even an agreed-upon definition.  The term is used loosely enough that it sometimes covers and sometimes excludes universities, Thomas Edison, Elias Howe (the inventor of the lockstitch in 1843), Charles Goodyear (the inventor of vulcanized rubber in 1839), and even companies like IBM.  How can we be expected to have a reasonable discussion about patent policy when our basic terms of public discourse shift in meaning from blog to blog, article to article, speaker to speaker?  The same is true of the new term, “Patent Assertion Entities,” which sounds more neutral, but has the same problem in that it also lacks any objective definition or usage.

Setting aside this basic problem of terminology for the moment, the SHIELD Act is anything but a “smarter patent law” (to quote President Obama). Some patent scholars, like Michael Risch, have begun to point out some of the serious problems with the SHIELD Act, such as its selectively discriminatory treatment of certain types of patent-owners.  Moreover, as Professor Risch ably identifies, this legislation was so cleverly drafted to cover only a limited set of a specific type of patent-owner that it ended up being too clever. Unlike the previous version introduced last year, the 2013 SHIELD Act does not even apply to the flavor-of-the-day outrage over patent licensing companies—the owner of the podcast patent. (Although you wouldn’t know this if you read the supporters of the SHIELD Act like the EFF who falsely claim that this law will stop patent-owners like the podcast patent-owning company.)

There are many things wrong with the SHIELD Act, but one thing that I want to highlight here is that it based on a falsehood: the oft-repeated claim that two Boston University researchers have proven in a study that “patent troll suits cost American technology companies over $29 billion in 2011 alone.”  This is what Rep. DeFazio said when he introduced the SHIELD Act on March 1. This claim was repeated yesterday by House Members during a hearing on “Abusive Patent Litigation.” The claim that patent licensing companies cost American tech companies $29 billion in a single year (2011) has become gospel since this study, The Direct Costs from NPE Disputes, was released last summer on the Internet. (Another name of patent licensing companies is “Non Practicing Entity” or “NPE.”)  A Google search of “patent troll 29 billion” produces 191,000 hits. A Google search of “NPE 29 billion” produces 605,000 hits. Such is the making of conventional wisdom.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that it is usually incorrect, and the study that produced the claim of “$29 billion imposed by patent trolls” is no different. The $29 billion cost study is deeply and fundamentally flawed, as explained by two noted professors, David Schwartz and Jay Kesan, who are also highly regarded for their empirical and economic work in patent law.  In their essay, Analyzing the Role of Non-Practicing Entities in the Patent System, also released late last summer, they detailed at great length serious methodological and substantive flaws in The Direct Costs from NPE Disputes. Unfortunately, the Schwartz and Kesan essay has gone virtually unnoticed in the patent policy debates, while the $29 billion cost claim has through repetition become truth.

In the hope that at least a few more people might discover the Schwartz and Kesan essay, I will briefly summarize some of their concerns about the study that produced the $29 billion cost figure.  This is not merely an academic exercise.  Since Rep. DeFazio explicitly relied on the $29 billion cost claim to justify the SHIELD Act, and he and others keep repeating it, it’s important to know if it is true, because it’s being used to drive proposed legislation in the real world.  If patent legislation is supposed to secure innovation, then it behooves us to know if this legislation is based on actual facts. Yet, as Schwartz and Kesan explain in their essay, the $29 billion cost claim is based on a study that is fundamentally flawed in both substance and methodology.

In terms of its methodological flaws, the study supporting the $29 billion cost claim employs an incredibly broad definition of “patent troll” that covers almost every person, corporation or university that sues someone for infringing a patent that it is not currently being used to manufacture a product at that moment.  While the meaning of the “patent troll” epithet shifts depending on the commentator, reporter, blogger, or scholar who is using it, one would be extremely hard pressed to find anyone embracing this expansive usage in patent scholarship or similar commentary today.

There are several reasons why the extremely broad definition of “NPE” or “patent troll” in the study is unusual even compared to uses of this term in other commentary or studies. First, and most absurdly, this definition, by necessity, includes every university in the world that sues someone for infringing one of its patents, as universities don’t manufacture goods.  Second, it includes every individual and start-up company who plans to manufacture a patented invention, but is forced to sue an infringer-competitor who thwarted these business plans by its infringing sales in the marketplace.  Third, it includes commercial firms throughout the wide-ranging innovation industries—from high tech to biotech to traditional manufacturing—that have at least one patent among a portfolio of thousands that is not being used at the moment to manufacture a product because it may be “well outside the area in which they make products” and yet they sue infringers of this patent (the quoted language is from the study). So, according to this study, every manufacturer becomes an “NPE” or “patent troll” if it strays too far from what somebody subjectively defines as its rightful “area” of manufacturing. What company is not branded an “NPE” or “patent troll” under this definition, or will necessarily become one in the future given inevitable changes in one’s business plans or commercial activities? This is particularly true for every person or company whose only current opportunity to reap the benefit of their patented invention is to license the technology or to litigate against the infringers who refuse license offers.

So, when almost every possible patent-owning person, university, or corporation is defined as a “NPE” or “patent troll,” why are we surprised that a study that employs this virtually boundless definition concludes that they create $29 billion in litigation costs per year?  The only thing surprising is that the number isn’t even higher!

There are many other methodological flaws in the $29 billion cost study, such as its explicit assumption that patent litigation costs are “too high” without providing any comparative baseline for this conclusion.  What are the costs in other areas of litigation, such as standard commercial litigation, tort claims, or disputes over complex regulations?  We are not told.  What are the historical costs of patent litigation?  We are not told.  On what basis then can we conclude that $29 billion is “too high” or even “too low”?  We’re supposed to be impressed by a number that exists in a vacuum and that lacks any empirical context by which to evaluate it.

The $29 billion cost study also assumes that all litigation transaction costs are deadweight losses, which would mean that the entire U.S. court system is a deadweight loss according to the terms of this study.  Every lawsuit, whether a contract, tort, property, regulatory or constitutional dispute is, according to the assumption of the $29 billion cost study, a deadweight loss.  The entire U.S. court system is an inefficient cost imposed on everyone who uses it.  Really?  That’s an assumption that reduces itself to absurdity—it’s a self-imposed reductio ad absurdum!

In addition to the methodological problems, there are also serious concerns about the trustworthiness and quality of the actual data used to reach the $29 billion claim in the study.  All studies rely on data, and in this case, the $29 billion study used data from a secret survey done by RPX of its customers.  For those who don’t know, RPX’s business model is to defend companies against these so-called “patent trolls.”  So, a company whose business model is predicated on hyping the threat of “patent trolls” does a secret survey of its paying customers, and it is now known that RPX informed its customers in the survey that their answers would be used to lobby for changes in the patent laws.

As every reputable economist or statistician will tell you, such conditions encourage exaggeration and bias in a data sample by motivating participation among those who support changes to the patent law.  Such a problem even has a formal name in economic studies: self-selection bias.  But one doesn’t need to be an economist or statistician to be able to see the problems in relying on the RPX data to conclude that NPEs cost $29 billion per year. As the classic adage goes, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Even worse, as I noted above, the RPX survey was confidential.  RPX has continued to invoke “client confidences” in refusing to disclose its actual customer survey or the resulting data, which means that the data underlying the $29 billion claim is completely unknown and unverifiable for anyone who reads the study.  Don’t worry, the researchers have told us in a footnote in the study, they looked at the data and confirmed it is good.  Again, it doesn’t take economic or statistical training to know that something is not right here. Another classic cliché comes to mind at this point: “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

In fact, keeping data secret in a published study violates well-established and longstanding norms in all scientific research that data should always be made available for testing and verification by third parties.  No peer-reviewed medical or scientific journal would publish a study based on a secret data set in which the researchers have told us that we should simply trust them that the data is accurate.  Its use of secret data probably explains why the $29 billion study has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, and, if economics has any claim to being an actual science, this study never will.  If a study does not meet basic scientific standards for verifying data, then why are Reps. DeFazio and Chaffetz relying on it to propose national legislation that directly impacts the patent system and future innovation?  If heads-in-the-clouds academics would know to reject such a study as based on unverifiable, likely biased claptrap, then why are our elected officials embracing it to create real-world legal rules?

And, to continue our running theme of classic clichés, there’s the rub. The more one looks at the actual legal requirements of the SHIELD Act, the more, in the words of Professor Risch, one is left “scratching one’s head” in bewilderment.  The more one looks at the supporting studies and arguments in favor of the SHIELD Act, the more one is left, in the words of Professor Risch, “scratching one’s head.”  The more and more one thinks about the SHIELD Act, the more one realizes what it is—legislation that has been crafted at the behest of the politically powerful (such as an Internet company who can get the President to do a special appearance on its own social media website) to have the government eliminate a smaller, publicly reviled, and less politically-connected group.

In short, people may have legitimate complaints about the ways in which the court system in the U.S. generally has problems.  Commentators and Congresspersons could even consider revising the general legal rules governing patent ligtiation for all plaintiffs and defendants to make the ligitation system work better or more efficiently (by some established metric).   Professor Risch has done exactly this in a recent Wired op-ed.  But it’s time to call a spade a spade: the SHIELD Act is a classic example of rent-seeking, discriminatory legislation.

A heavily revised and expanded verison of one of my earlier blog postings was just posted as an op-ed on  This op-ed addresses how the FTC and DOJ have let themselves become swept up in anti-patent rhetoric, as evidenced by the FTC-DOJ workshop on December 10 that I participated in. Here’s a small taste of the op-ed:

Although the public hears the mantra almost daily that “the patent system is broken,” what we really need is a thorough evaluation of the historic impact the patent system has had on innovation without the negative hype and misinformation that is perpetuated in news headlines or blogs. On December 10, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) held the first of a series of workshops on the patent system and innovation. This first workshop dived into the workings of what some people call “patent assertion entities” (PAE), which are firms that acquire and license patents. The FTC and DOJ, as well as most of the invited participants at the workshop, adopted the “PAE” label as the subject of their critical scrutiny.

 Of course, identifying these firms by their business model of patent licensing denies the patent system naysayers the pejorative rhetorical force of their “PAE” label.  In fact, patent licensing firms have come under attack in newspaper reports, in blogs, and in academic commentary, prompting the FTC and DOJ to consider whether to sanction patent licensing firms for allegedly undermining the innovation made possible by the patent system through some nebulous notion that patent licensing is somehow “anti-competitive.” If anything, this reveals the power of rhetoric.

The truth is that these patent licensing firms maximize value in patented innovation, proving once again Adam Smith’s classic economic insight that specialization and division of labor is key to the success of a commercial economy. There has always existed since the early nineteenth century a secondary market in the sale and purchase of patents, but these firms make use of modern developments in corporate law, finance, and technology to reap new value for inventors or other firms who lack either the knowledge or resources to monetize their innovation assets. In short, patent licensing firms reflect the exact same value-maximizing aggregation and specialization that other firms have long employed in our successful invention economy, such as when 3M or Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory aggregated inventors for research and development itself. Patent licensing firms, by better enabling inventors to sell and exchange their ideas, bring the same efficiencies to our invention economy as did the invention of R&D departments over one hundred years ago.

As the blogging master (Instapundit) likes to say: Read the whole thing!

Free Uber

Josh Wright —  6 September 2012

From the NY Times:

Uber, a company based in San Francisco, is introducing a smartphone app to New York that allows available taxi drivers and cab-seeking riders to find one another. The company said the service would begin operating on Wednesday in 105 cabs — a bit less than 1 percent of the city’s more than 13,000 yellow cabs. Uber added that it hoped to recruit 100 new drivers each week.

But the program may have a significant problem: Taxi officials say that Uber’s service may not be legal since city rules do not allow for prearranged rides in yellow taxis. They also forbid cabbies from using electronic devices while driving and prohibit any unjustified refusal of fares. (Under Uber’s policy, once a driver accepts a ride through the app, no other passenger can be picked up.)

So, who else might be interested in fighting the rise of Uber and similar services?

The influx of apps appears to have created a moment of unity among yellow-taxi, livery and black-car operators, all of whom have raised concerns about the apps’ legality. Some industry officials said the commission was not acting forcefully enough; the result, said Avik Kabessa, the chief executive of Carmel Car and Limousine Service and a member of the board of the Livery Roundtable, a group representing livery drivers, is a New York City version of “the Wild West.”  An analysis conducted by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents yellow-taxi operators, identified what it deemed to be 11 potential violations of taxi guidelines in Uber’s model. These included charging a tip automatically, not allowing for cash payments and turning away passengers while being on duty.

Uber and similar services face similar threats in other cities, including here in DC, where Uber faced the “Uber Amendments” which would require Uber to charge five times the price of a cab!  At least the DC Commission was incredibly clear about the role of the regulation: to suppress competition and harm consumers:

Explanation and Rationale
· This section would clarify how sedan services operate.

· Sedans would be required to charge a minimum fare of 5 times the drop rate for taxicabs.

· Sedans would be required to charge time and distance rates that are greater as those for taxicabs.

· These requirements would ensure that sedan service is a premium class of service with a substantially higher cost that does not directly compete with or undercut taxicab service.

Here is Uber’s response to the DC Council:

The Council’s intention is to prevent Uber from being a viable alternative to taxis by enacting a price floor to set Uber’s minimum fare at today’s rates and no less than 5 times a taxi’s minimum fare. Consequently they are handicapping a reliable, high quality transportation alternative so that Uber cannot offer a high quality service at the best possible price. It was hard for us to believe that an elected body would choose to keep prices of a transportation service artificially high – but the goal is essentially to protect a taxi industry that has significantexperience in influencing local politicians. They want to make sure there is no viable alternative to a taxi in Washington DC, and so on Tuesday (tomorrow!), the DC City Council is going to formalize that principle into law.

There appears to be subsequent history, including a temporary shelving of the Amendment with the potential to bring it back on its own in the future.  Councilwoman and George Washington Law Prof Mary Cheh is a force behind the Uber Amendment and complained that a settlement could not be reached with Uber that would shed the requirement of having prices 5 times higher, but retain a price differential in the name of shielding taxi cabs from competition (emphasis my own):

Establishing a minimum fare is important to distinguish premium sedan service from traditional taxicab service and to prevent sedans from directly competing with or undercuting taxicabs.  Taxi companies want minimum fares that are much higher than what I am proposing in my amendment.  However, I believe that simply preserving the status quo is appropriate and reasonable.

I am deeply disappointed that Uber has decided that it no longer supports this amendment that we negotiated in good faith.  The taxi industry is one that has been regulated for a very long time.  If Uber wishes to operate taxis, then it is free to do so, but it should then be subject to the same regulations and requirements of taxis.

As I frequently point out on the blog, local barriers to entry cause substantially greater dissipation of consumer surplus than is conventionally acknowledged (e.g., here, here, and here).

HT: Hal Singer.

Richard Epstein replies to Judge Posner’s Apple v. Motorola opinion and follow-up article in The Atlantic.

The anti-patent sentiment has just been fueled by a remarkable opinion by Judge Richard Posner, my long-time colleague at the University of Chicago, sitting as a trial judge in the major case, Apple v. Motorola. The high-profile case concerns five patents—four by Apple and one by Motorola—that are involved in mobile phone technology, and it has drawn more than its fair share of attention. Judge Posner took the extraordinary step of dismissing the claims of both sides with prejudice—meaning, the case cannot be filed again elsewhere—on the grounds that neither side could make good on its argument for either damages or injunctions.

Thus, when the dust settled, there was no reason at all to have a trial on whether either side had infringed the patents of the other. In a subsequent piece written for The Atlantic, grandly entitled “Why There are Too Many Patents in America,” Posner delivered a general critique of the patent system, discussing the broader issues involved in his judicial decision.

There is much of interest, as always, in Epstein’s column.  But the closing section on damages and injunctions is where the action is:

What is so striking about Posner’s relentless dissection of the imprecision in these claims was that he could apply it with equal conviction in any patent software dispute. The estimates of damages under the law are not confined to a single standard, but often involve an uncertain choice between reasonable royalties for licensing the patent and actual damages that were incurred because the patents were not licensed. The injunctive relief is (or at least should be) awarded precisely because it is so difficult to figure out what those damages really ought to be.

But Posner said that he would not allow an injunction if the best that the plaintiffs could garner was $1 in nominal damages. That surely seems over the top, because if there is infringement, the one number that is manifestly wrong is $1. A more sensible approach here, therefore, is to mix and marry the two remedies, so that the injunction does not pull the past product off the market, but awards some damages for past losses, while giving the infringer some period of time—say three to six months—to invent around the patent for future output. This then sets the stage for a negotiated license if that is cheaper.

By putting the remedial cart before the liability horse, we have the odd situation that no one can find out anything about the strength of the patent or the potential range of damages. If that is done on a common basis, then we will have knocked out the entire patent system for software, without having the slightest idea of the relative strength of the Apple and Motorola contentions.

The Posner decision looks doubly worrisome against the backdrop of his ominous Atlantic column, which shows his ill-concealed disdain for a complex industry with which he has had no direct engagement. It is an odd way to make patent policy. Right now, a similar Apple-Samsung dispute is before Judge Lucy Koh, which will involve a real trial. The Posner opinion is already on the fast track to appeal before the Federal Circuit, which will give us more information as to whether these submarine assaults on the patent system will take hold. Let us hope that Posner’s mysterious patent adventurism dies a quick and deserved death.

Do go read the whole thing.  For interested readers, here is Posner’s Atlantic column.

I’m very pleased to announce the George Mason Law & Economics Center is hosting a program focusing on our friend and colleague Larry Ribstein’s scholarship on the market for law.   Henry Butler and Bruce Kobayashi have put together a really wonderful program of folks coming together not to celebrate Larry’s work — but to use it as a platform for further discussion and for legal scholars to engage in these important issues.

Interested readers might want to check out the TOTM Unlocking the Law Symposium.

The announcement follows and I hope to see some of you there on Friday, November 9, 2012 at GMU Law.
The Henry G. Manne Program in Law and Regulatory Studies presents Unlocking the Law: Building on the Work of Professor Larry Ribstein to be held at George Mason University School of Law, Friday, November 9th, 2012. The conference will run from 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

OVERVIEW: In a series of influential and provocative articles, Professor Larry Ribstein examined the forces behind the recent upheaval in the market for legal services. These forces included increased global competition, changes in the demand for legal services resulting from the expanded role of the in-house counsel, and the expanded use of technology. His analysis showed that changes in the market for legal services were not just the result of a cyclical downturn in the economy. Rather, the profound changes in the market reflected building competitive pressures that exposed the flaws in the business model used by large firms to provide legal services. His recent writings also examined the broader implications of this upheaval for legal education, the private production of law, and whether legal innovation will be hindered by or hasten the demise of the current system of professional regulation of lawyers.

Professor Ribstein passed away suddenly on December 24, 2011. In the wake of the terrible loss of their close friend and colleague, Professors Henry Butler and Bruce Kobayashi (along with several other colleagues at Mason Law) have decided to honor Larry through a conference designed to capture and expand on the spirit of Larry’s recent work. The Unlocking the Law Conference seeks to advance these goals by inviting legal scholars to present their views and engage in a vibrant discussion about the present and future of the market for legal services. The panels at this conference will showcase 14 papers written specifically for this occasion and presented to the public for the first time.

This conference is organized by Henry N. Butler, Executive Director of the Law & Economics Center and George Mason Foundation Professor of Law, and Bruce H. Kobayashi, Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law through a new Project on Legal Services Reform – under the auspices of the Mason Law & Economics Center. The Project on Legal Services Reform seeks to continue and extend the important work on legal innovation, legal education, law firms, and legal regulation produced by Larry. We hope to encourage scholars who have not worked in these areas to read Larry’s work, critique it in the same manner in which Larry famously commented on papers, and expand (or even restrict or redirect) the thrust of Larry’s work. In essence, this project is about “Larry as Catalyst.”

For background information, you might want to visit TRUTH ON THE MARKET (, which held an online symposium on this topic on September 19 and 20, 2011.

REGISTRATION: You must pre-register for this event. To register, please send a message with your name, affiliation, and full contact information to: Jeff Smith, Coordinator, Henry G. Manne Program in Law and Regulatory Studies,


Friday, November 9, 2012:

Panel I. The Future of Legal Services and Legal Education

How the Structure of Universities Determined the Fate of American Law Schools
– Henry G. Manne, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Ave Maria School of Law; Dean Emeritus, George Mason University School of Law

The Undergraduate Option for Legal Education
– John O. McGinnis, George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law, Northwestern University School of Law

Panel II. Deregulating Legal Services

The Deprofessionalization of Profession Services: What Law and Medicine Have in Common and How They Differ
– Richard A. Epstein, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

The Future of Licensing Lawyers
– M. Todd Henderson, Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School

Failing the Legal System: Why Lawyers and Judges Need to Act to Authorize the Organizational Practice of Law
– Gillian K. Hadfield, Richard L. and Antoinette Schamoi Kirtland Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Globalization and Deregulation of Legal Services
– Nuno Garoupa, Professor and H. Ross and Helen Workman Research Scholar, University of Illinois College of Law; Co-Director, Illinois Program on Law, Behavior, and Social Science

Panel III. Law Firms and Competition Between Lawyers

From Big Law to Lean Law
– William D. Henderson, Professor of Law and Van Nolan Faculty Fellow, Indiana University Maurer School of Law; Director, Center on the Global Legal Profession

Glass Half Full: The Significant Upsides to the Changes in the American Legal Market
– Benjamin H. Barton, Professor of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law

An Exploration of Price Competition Among Lawyers
– Clifford Winston, Senior Fellow, Economics Studies, Brooking Institution

Panel IV. Reputation, Fiduciary Duties, and Agency Costs

Lawyers as Reputational Intermediaries: Sovereign Bond Issuances (1820-2012)
– Michael H. Bradley, F.M. Kirby Professor of Investment Banking Emeritus, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law
– Mitu Gulati, Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law
– Irving A. De Lira Salvatierra, Graduate Student, Department of Economics, Duke University

The Fiduciary Society
– Jason Scott Johnston, Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation Professor of Law and Nicholas E. Chimicles Research Professor in Business Law and Regulation, University of Virginia School of Law

Class Action Lawmakers and the Agency Problem
– Barry E. Adler, Bernard Petrie Professor of Law and Business and Associate Dean for Information Systems and Technology, New York University School of Law

Panel V. Private Lawmaking and Adjudication

Decentralizing the Lawmaking Function: Should There Be Intellectual Property Rights in Law?
– Robert G. Bone, G. Rollie White Teaching Excellence Chair in Law, University of Texas at Austin School of Law

Arbitration, the Law Market, and the Law of Lawyering
– Erin O’Hara O’Connor, Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law, Vanderbilt University Law School
– Peter B. Rutledge, Herman E. Talmadge Chair of Law, University of Georgia Law School

George Mason University School of Law
3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201

FURTHER INFORMATION: For more information regarding this conference or other initiatives of the Law & Economics Center, please visit:

Call or send an email to: Tel: (703) 993-8040, Email:

The Henry G. Manne Program in Law & Economics honors the legacy of Henry G. Manne, Dean Emeritus of George Mason Law School and founder of the Law & Economics Center. Manne was a trailblazer in the development of law and economics, not only as a prominent and influential scholar, but also as an academic entrepreneur. He spurred the development of law and economics into the most influential area of legal scholarship through his Economics Institutes for Law Professors and Law Institutes for Economics Professors. The Manne Program promotes law-and-economics scholarship by funding faculty research and hosting research roundtables and academic conferences.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is being justly criticized for his rather silly idea of banning sales of sugar drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces in various public venues.  Most of the critics focus on the paternalism (updated to be now called  nannyism) of this ban.  However,  aside from being paternalistic, it is also useless.  As Jon Klick and Eric Helland have shown, there is no scientific basis for thinking that limiting consumption of sugared drinks will have any effect on obesity.

But on another front Mayor Bloomberg is on the right side.  One of the less pleasant aspects of New York is the difficulty of getting a cab — especially during the evening rush hour.  Cab drivers all change shifts at about 5 PM, so when demand is greatest there are no cabs.  They are all in Queens changing drivers.  This is because of the inefficient pricing structure imposed on cabs.  But in addition the number of cabs (medallions) is severely limited.  There are 13,237 licensed cabs in New York. In the 1930s, before the medallion system was created, there were as many as 30,000. If there were more cabs, the problem of access would be at least be alleviated.

Enter Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to increase the number of cabs in two ways.  One prong is to authorize “livery ” cabs to answer street hails in boroughs other than Manhattan.  The second prong is to create 2000 new yellow cab medallions in Manhattan.  Unfortunately, as a result of a suit brought by the taxi industry, a Supreme Court judge has just stopped this plan. The city may appeal, in part because it was depending on the revenue from the sale of the new licenses.

Why is the Mayor taking a strong pro-market position with respect to taxis but an anti market position with respect to soft drinks (and other aspects of food, such as salt content)?  Mayor Bloomberg is a very smart man, but he seems to lack a coherent theory of markets.  As a result, his actions sometimes facilitate the functioning of markets and sometimes hinder them, depending on his intuition about what will improve consumer welfare.  It would be better if he were always right, but being half right is better than some politicians.

The DOJ’s recent press release on the Google/Motorola, Rockstar Bidco, and Apple/ Novell transactions struck me as a bit odd when I read it.  As I’ve now had a bit of time to digest it, I’ve grown to really dislike it.  For those who have not followed Jorge Contreras had an excellent summary of events at Patently-O.

For those of us who have been following the telecom patent battles, something remarkable happened a couple of weeks ago.  On February 7, the Wall St. Journal reported that, back in November, Apple sent a letter[1] to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) setting forth Apple’s position regarding its commitment to license patents essential to ETSI standards.  In particular, Apple’s letter clarified its interpretation of the so-called “FRAND” (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing terms that ETSI participants are required to use when licensing standards-essential patents.  As one might imagine, the actual scope and contours of FRAND licenses have puzzled lawyers, regulators and courts for years, and past efforts at clarification have never been very successful.  The next day, on February 8, Google released a letter[2] that it sent to the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), ETSI and several other standards organizations.  Like Apple, Google sought to clarify its position on FRAND licensing.  And just hours after Google’s announcement, Microsoft posted a statement of “Support for Industry Standards”[3] on its web site, laying out its own gloss on FRAND licensing.  For those who were left wondering what instigated this flurry of corporate “clarification”, the answer arrived a few days later when, on February 13, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released its decision[4] to close the investigation of three significant patent-based transactions:  the acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google, the acquisition of a large patent portfolio formerly held by Nortel Networks by “Rockstar Bidco” (a group including Microsoft, Apple, RIM and others), and the acquisition by Apple of certain Linux-related patents formerly held by Novell.  In its decision, the DOJ noted with approval the public statements by Apple and Microsoft, while expressing some concern with Google’s FRAND approach.  The European Commission approved Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility on the same day.

To understand the significance of the Apple, Microsoft and Google FRAND statements, some background is in order.  The technical standards that enable our computers, mobile phones and home entertainment gear to communicate and interoperate are developed by corps of “volunteers” who get together in person and virtually under the auspices of standards-development organizations (SDOs).  These SDOs include large, international bodies such as ETSI and IEEE, as well as smaller consortia and interest groups.  The engineers who do the bulk of the work, however, are not employees of the SDOs (which are usually thinly-staffed non-profits), but of the companies who plan to sell products that implement the standards: the Apples, Googles, Motorolas and Microsofts of the world.  Should such a company obtain a patent covering the implementation of a standard, it would be able to exert significant leverage over the market for products that implemented the standard.  In particular, if a patent holder were to obtain, or even threaten to obtain, an injunction against manufacturers of competing standards-compliant products, either the standard would become far less useful, or the market would experience significant unanticipated costs.  This phenomenon is what commentators have come to call “patent hold-up”.  Due to the possibility of hold-up, most SDOs today require that participants in the standards-development process disclose their patents that are necessary to implement the standard and/or commit to license those patents on FRAND terms.

As Contreras notes, an important part of these FRAND commitments offered by Google, Motorola, and Apple related to the availability of injunctive relief (do go see the handy chart in Contreras’ post laying out the key differences in the commitments).  Contreras usefully summarizes the three statements’ positions on injunctive relief:

In their February FRAND statements, Apple and Microsoft each commit not to seek injunctions on the basis of their standards-essential patents.  Google makes a similar commitment, but qualifies it in typically lawyerly fashion (Google’s letter is more than 3 single-spaced pages in length, while Microsoft’s simple statement occupies about a quarter of a page).  In this case, Google’s careful qualifications (injunctive relief might be possible if the potential licensee does not itself agree to refrain from seeking an injunction, if licensing negotiations extended beyond a reasonable period, and the like) worked against it.  While the DOJ applauds Apple’s and Microsoft’s statements “that they will not seek to prevent or exclude rivals’ products form the market”, it views Google’s commitments as “less clear”.  The DOJ thus “continues to have concerns about the potential inappropriate use of [standards-essential patents] to disrupt competition”.

Its worth reading the DOJ’s press release on this point — specifically, that while the DOJ found that none of the three transactions itself raised competitive concerns or was substantially likely to lessen the competition, the DOJ expressed general concerns about the relationship between these firms’ market positions and ability to use the threat of injunctive relief to hold up rivals:

Apple’s and Google’s substantial share of mobile platforms makes it more likely that as the owners of additional SEPs they could hold up rivals, thus harming competition and innovation.  For example, Apple would likely benefit significantly through increased sales of its devices if it could exclude Android-based phones from the market or raise the costs of such phones through IP-licenses or patent litigation.  Google could similarly benefit by raising the costs of, or excluding, Apple devices because of the revenues it derives from Android-based devices.

The specific transactions at issue, however, are not likely to substantially lessen competition.  The evidence shows that Motorola Mobility has had a long and aggressive history of seeking to capitalize on its intellectual property and has been engaged in extended disputes with Apple, Microsoft and others.  As Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is unlikely to materially alter that policy, the division concluded that transferring ownership of the patents would not substantially alter current market dynamics.  This conclusion is limited to the transfer of ownership rights and not the exercise of those transferred rights.

With respect to Apple/Novell, the division concluded that the acquisition of the patents from CPTN, formerly owned by Novell, is unlikely to harm competition.  While the patents Apple would acquire are important to the open source community and to Linux-based software in particular, the OIN, to which Novell belonged, requires its participating patent holders to offer a perpetual, royalty-free license for use in the “Linux-system.”  The division investigated whether the change in ownership would permit Apple to avoid OIN commitments and seek royalties from Linux users.  The division concluded it would not, a conclusion made easier by Apple’s commitment to honor Novell’s OIN licensing commitments.

In its analysis of the transactions, the division took into account the fact that during the pendency of these investigations, Apple, Google and Microsoft each made public statements explaining their respective SEP licensing practices.  Both Apple and Microsoft made clear that they will not seek to prevent or exclude rivals’ products from the market in exercising their SEP rights.

What’s problematic about a competition enforcement agency extracting promises not to enforce lawfully obtained property rights during merger review, outside the formal consent process, and in transactions that do not raise competitive concerns themselves?  For starters, the DOJ’s expression about competitive concerns about “hold up” obfuscate an important issue.  In Rambus the D.C. Circuit clearly held that not all forms of what the DOJ describes here as patent holdup violate the antitrust laws in the first instance.  Both appellate courts discussion patent holdup as an antitrust violation have held the patent holder must deceptively induce the SSO to adopt the patented technology.  Rambus makes clear — as I’ve discussed — that a firm with lawfully acquired monopoly power who merely raises prices does not violate the antitrust laws.  The proposition that all forms of patent holdup are antitrust violations is dubious.  For an agency to extract concessions that go beyond the scope of the antitrust laws at all, much less through merger review of transactions that do not raise competitive concerns themselves, raises serious concerns.

Here is what the DOJ says about Google’s commitment:

If adhered to in practice, these positions could significantly reduce the possibility of a hold up or use of an injunction as a threat to inhibit or preclude innovation and competition.

Google’s commitments have been less clear.  In particular, Google has stated to the IEEE and others on Feb. 8, 2012, that its policy is to refrain from seeking injunctive relief for the infringement of SEPs against a counter-party, but apparently only for disputes involving future license revenues, and only if the counterparty:  forgoes certain defenses such as challenging the validity of the patent; pays the full disputed amount into escrow; and agrees to a reciprocal process regarding injunctions.  Google’s statement therefore does not directly provide the same assurance as the other companies’ statements concerning the exercise of its newly acquired patent rights.  Nonetheless, the division determined that the acquisition of the patents by Google did not substantially lessen competition, but how Google may exercise its patents in the future remains a significant concern.

No doubt the DOJ statement is accurate and the DOJ’s concerns about patent holdup are genuine.  But that’s not the point.

The question of the appropriate role for injunctions and damages in patent infringement litigation is a complex one.  While many scholars certainly argue that the use of injunctions facilitates patent hold up and threatens innovation.  There are serious debates to be had about whether more vigorous antitrust enforcement of the contractual relationships between patent holders and standard setting organization (SSOs) would spur greater innovation.   The empirical evidence suggesting patent holdup is a pervasive problem is however, at best, quite mixed.  Further, others argue that the availability of injunctions is not only a fundamental aspect of our system of property rights, but also from an economic perspective, that the power of the injunctions facilitates efficient transacting by the parties.  For example, some contend that the power to obtain injunctive relief for infringement within the patent thicket results in a “cold war” of sorts in which the threat is sufficient to induce cross-licensing by all parties.  Surely, this is not first best.  But that isn’t the relevant question.

There are other more fundamental problems with the notion of patent holdup as an antitrust concern.  Kobayashi & Wright also raise concerns with the theoretical case for antitrust enforcement of patent holdup on several grounds.  One is that high probability of detection of patent holdup coupled with antitrust’s treble damages makes overdeterrence highly likely.  Another is that alternative remedies such as contract and the patent doctrine of equitable estoppel render the marginal benefits of antitrust enforcement trivial or negative in this context.  Froeb, Ganglmair & Werden raise similar points.   Suffice it to say that the debate on the appropriate scope of antitrust enforcement in patent holdup is ongoing as a general matter; there is certainly no consensus with regard to economic theory or empirical evidence that stripping the availability of injunctive relief from patent holders entering into contractual relationships with SSOs will enhance competition or improve consumer welfare.  It is quite possible that such an intervention would chill competition, participation in SSOs, and the efficient contracting process potentially facilitated by the availability of injunctive relief.

The policy debate I describe above is an important one.  Many of the questions at the center of that complex debate are not settled as a matter of economic theory, empirics, or law.  This post certainly has no ambitions to resolve them here; my goal is a much more modest one.  The DOJs policymaking efforts through the merger review process raise serious issues.  I would hope that all would agree — regardless of where they stand on the patent holdup debate — that the idea that these complex debates be hammered out in merger review at the DOJ because the DOJ happens to have a number of cases involving patent portfolios is a foolish one for several reasons.

First, it is unclear the DOJ could have extracted these FRAND concessions through proper merger review.  The DOJ apparently agreed that the transactions did not raise serious competitive concerns.   The pressure imposed by the DOJ upon the parties to make the commitments to the SSOs not to pursue injunctive relief as part of a FRAND commitment outside of the normal consent process raises serious concerns.  The imposition of settlement conditions far afield from the competitive consequences of the merger itself is something we do see from antitrust enforcement agencies in other countries quite frequently, but this sort of behavior burns significant reputational capital with the rest of the world when our agencies go abroad to lecture on the importance of keeping antitrust analysis consistent, predictable, and based upon the economic fundamentals of the transaction at hand.

Second, the DOJ Antitrust Division does not alone have comparative advantage in determining the optimal use of injunctions versus damages in the patent system.

Third, appearances here are quite problematic.  Given that the DOJ did not appear to have significant competitive concerns with the transactions, one can create the following narrative of events without too much creative effort: (1) the DOJ team has theoretical priors that injunctive relief is a significant competitive problem, (2) the DOJ happens to have these mergers in front of it pending review from a couple of firms likely to be repeat players in the antitrust enforcement game, (3) the DOJ asks the firms to make these concessions despite the fact that they have little to do with the conventional antitrust analysis of the transactions, under which they would have been approved without condition.

The more I think about the use of the merger review process to extract concessions from patent holders in the form of promises not to enforce property rights which they would otherwise be legally entitled to, the more the DOJ’s actions appear inappropriate.  The stakes are high here both in terms of identifying patent and competition rules that will foster rather than hamper innovation, but also with respect to compromising the integrity of merger review through the imposition of non-merger related conditions we are more akin to seeing from the FCC, states, or less well-developed antitrust regimes.

I recently heard an ominous NPR story on the rise in trips to the emergency room by people seeking dental treatment.  In 2009 alone, Tennessee’s emergency rooms had more than 55,000 dental-related visits — five times as many as for burns.  Florida’s emergency rooms experienced over 115,000 ER visits for dental matters in 2010.  Charges for those visits totaled $88 million.

This is a big problem.  Emergency rooms aren’t set up to treat dental patients, and the charges they impose dwarf those dentists charge for emergency work, much less for the sort of routine dental service that prevents dental emergencies in the first place.  A huge amount of money could be saved if people — especially the poor folks who tend to use the emergency room for dental work — would just go to the dentist.

One approach to the problem would be to try to reduce the cost of preventive dental care.  The vast majority of routine dental care can be (and, it seems from my own experience, usually is) provided by technicians who have some relatively low-cost specialized training but are not licensed dentists who have earned an expensive degree from a dental school.  If regulators gave these folks more leeway to provide routine services without having to send their bills through a dentist who is sure to mark them up, the price of routine preventive services would fall, and more low-income folks would purchase them.  The dental lobby, however, fights tooth and nail against this sort of reform.

A more likely policy response may come under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).  As we’ve recently seen in the brouhaha over the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate, the Affordable Care Act requires that insurers fully cover, without any copayment requirement, any preventive measures that the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has rated “A” or “B” in terms cost-effectiveness.  Birth control and the so-called “morning after” pill were so rated, which is why the Obama Adminstration is requiring that employer-provided insurance policies cover them.

Isn’t basic dental service (routine cleanings, check-ups, etc.) a cost-effective preventive measure?  It certainly prevents serious and costly disease.  According to the USPTF’s grade definitions, a preventive measure will receive an A or B rating if there is at least a “moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial.”  The NPR report and the Pew Study on which it’s based suggest that routine dental services would surely earn an A or B rating.  If they’re so designated by USPTF, then it would seem that employer-provided insurance policies would have to cover them.  [Note that I use the awkward “it would seem” phrase because I haven’t scoured the gazillion-page statute to see if there’s some sort of exemption that would except dental services; there may well be.]   

“So what?”, you ask.  Why would it be a bad thing if health insurance routinely covered dental procedures that would prevent serious ailments down the road?  More people would then take the cost-effective precautions, thereby reducing the overall cost of health care.

Perhaps.  But greatly expanding insurance coverage of dental services would likely have an unintended (except from the dentists’ perspective!) consequence:  It would drive up the price of dentistry.  In the current environment in which most people lack dental insurance or have relatively stingy policies, consumers are intensely interested in the price of dental services.  Dentists respond by competing on price or, what is the same thing, the provision of “free” services like teeth whitening for new customers.  Cheapos like me just go to a different dentist for every routine cleaning in order to get a new customer discount each time.

If employer-provided health insurance begins to cover the full price of routine dental services — an outcome that would seem to be required by the Affordable Care Act — then we can expect these promotions to end.  Why would dentists compete on price when the customers selecting the dentists have no skin in the game?  Insurers might inject some price competition by setting maximum prices for “in network” dentists, but price competition at this level is far less vigorous than when the consumer is directly paying her own money out of pocket.  (Compare, e.g., price competition over LASIK treatments, purchased out of pocket, to price competition for routine doctor visits, which insurance covers in large part.) 

As economist after economist after economist explained in the debate over the Affordable Care Act, a primary reason for spiraling health care costs is the prevalence of generous third-party insurance that covers almost everything and thereby decimates patients’ incentive to shop on — and thus providers’ incentive to compete on — price.  Expanding this pernicious dynamic into the realm of dental services would be disastrous for all except dentists.

A far better way to address the problem of underutilization of preventive dental services would be to lower the cost of those services by liberalizing dentistry regulation (i.e., allowing trained non-dentists, who are cheaper, to do more).  The dental lobby will oppose such a move, and the Affordable Care Act, I fear, provides it with an alternative policy to endorse and pursue.  Yet another example of how the Affordable Care Act’s effort to increase insurance coverage undermines efforts to reduce costs.

You’ve seen the blog posts (e.g., here) and the working paper.  Now you can get the published article here.  Let me know if you want a reprint.

Teeth whiteners are joining the struggle against regulation.  Prior posts have covered licensing of witches, horse teeth floaters, cat groomers, tour guides, taxicabs and, of course, lawyers. Now the WSJ reports that

[d]entists are battling with spas, tanning salons and other nondental peddlers of pearly whites from North Carolina to New Jersey and, now, Connecticut over who should be permitted to meet the needs of a nation clamoring for an anchorman’s smile. Four out of five dentists, it seems, believe they should handle teeth whitening. But nondentists argue that the tooth doctors are just trying to protect their turf. As relations between the two sides have decayed, some Connecticut “teeth-whitening entrepreneurs” have begun a legal campaign to overturn a rule passed by the state’s dental commission in June that bars nondentists from offering the service.

Dentists charge $300-700 for whitening, nondentists $100 and $150.

The Connecticut dentist regulator (seven dental professionals, one member of the public) ruled in June that non-dentists who provide on-site teeth whitening face jail time.  The Institute for Justice argues that the Connecticut dentists are “using government power to stifle honest competition.” When North Carolina tried this, the FTC ordered it to stop such “anticompetitive conduct.” The New Jersey Dental Association sued a non-dentist teeth whitener for committing the illegal act of removing stains.  This, it says, can only be done by a dentist. The Association lost at trial.  But the dentists won a similar case in Alabama.

The struggle continues.