SEPs licensing across the supply chain: An antitrust perspective

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The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the development of 5G are set to add a new layer of complexity to the current practice of standard essential patents (SEPs) licensing. While, until recently, the debate has centred on the nature of fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) commitments and the mechanisms to avoid hold-up and reverse hold-up problems between licensors and licensees, a new hotly-debated issue has now emerged. At its core is the question of whether SEP holders should be required to grant a FRAND licence to any implementer seeking a licence, including component makers (so-called ‘licence-to-all’ approach), or if they should be allowed freely to target the supply chain level at which the licence is to be granted (so-called ‘access-for-all’ approach). After providing an up-to-date overview of the current legal and economic debate, the paper focuses on the most recent antitrust case law dealing with the matter on both sides of the Atlantic and argues that no sound economic and legal bases which favour licence-to-all solutions can be identified.

Disclaimer: Financial support received by the Deep-In (Digital Ecosystem, Economic Policy and Innovation) Research Network.