Mandating Final-Offer Arbitration of FRAND Royalties for Standard-Essential Patents

J. Gregory Sidak


Mark Lemley and Carl Shapiro propose that standard-setting organizations (SSOs) mandate that their members henceforth submit to binding, final-offer arbitration (commonly called “baseball arbitration”) to set fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) royalties in licensing disputes concerning standard-essential patents (SEPs). SSOs should reject this proposal. It does not rest on sufficient facts or data, nor does it apply intellectually rigorous principles and methods of law and economics in a reliable manner. This is not to say that the voluntary use of arbitration to resolve FRAND licensing disputes is inherently problematic. However, the incremental efficiency that Lemley and Shapiro claim that their proposal would achieve over litigation or conventional commercial arbitration is illusory. For one, it is much harder to value a portfolio of SEPs over the span of five years than to value an individual baseball player for a single season. The Lemley-Shapiro version of mandatory baseball arbitration would not shed light on the question of what constitutes a FRAND offer. To the contrary, Lemley-Shapiro arbitration by design collapses questions of validity, infringement, and essentiality of the patent to the standard into a single damage calculation in which the arbitrator’s sole responsibility is to choose one of two disparate estimates of reasonable royalties. Yet, a FRAND offer contains not only a price, but also terms and conditions that (because they are nuanced and possibly tailored to the unique needs of an individual licensee) do not lend themselves to being easily standardized, let alone summarized in a single number, as the description of Lemley-Shapiro arbitration might incorrectly lead some to assume. Lemley-Shapiro arbitration would not say whether a royalty offer was fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory. Lemley and Shapiro claim that their arbitration proposal offers “best practices” for SSOs. That label is unsupported and misleading. The package that Lemley and Shapiro call “best practices” is in fact not a narrow proposal for binding baseball arbitration but rather a roadmap to redefine patent rights in a manner that would transfer wealth from inventors to infringers. Embedded within Lemley-Shapiro arbitration are normative changes in patent law and policy that Lemley and Shapiro have previously advocated but that SSOs and courts have not adopted. An SSO that adopted Lemley-Shapiro arbitration could expect its members to commercialize their next generation of inventions outside that particular SSO, if not outside an open standard altogether.

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