Re: [antitrust-policy] An Antitrust Policy for the IETF

Jorge Contreras <cntreras@gmail.com> Sun, 15 January 2012 23:25 UTC

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Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2012 17:25:03 -0600
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From: Jorge Contreras <cntreras@gmail.com>
To: Stephan Wenger <stewe@stewe.org>
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Cc: antitrust-policy@ietf.org, "Joel M. Halpern" <jmh@joelhalpern.com>, Russ Housley <housley@vigilsec.com>
Subject: Re: [antitrust-policy] An Antitrust Policy for the IETF
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The issue of "collective negotiation" of licensing terms within an SDO is
currently unsettled, and there are vocal advocates on each side of the
question.  There have been no cases (at least not in the US) that are
directly on point, as far as I'm aware.  Thus, we may wish to say nothing
about this issue for the moment, and see how the law develops.

>
> That doesn't strike me as being the safest course of action.  What's wrong
> the documenting the current practice (at least based on my IETF experience)
> of not conducting licensing discussions in a Note Well setting?  What are
> the reasons for taking the IMO bold step of not mentioning such an
> obviously, and elsewhere prominently mentioned, point?
>
> Thanks,
> Stephan
>

Stephan -- you are right that many SDOs including ETSI prohibit collective
licensing discussions.  However, bear the timeline in mind.  The ETSI
policy was adopted, I believe, in 2007 and discussed heavily in 2006.

In late 2006, the US Dept of Justice issued a Business Review Letter at the
request of VITA (copy attached).  In note 27 of that letter, the DOJ says
that if VITA permitted "joint negotiation or discussion of licensing terms
among the working group members or with third parties", the DOJ "likely
would evaluate any antitrust concerns about them under the rule of
reason *because
such actions could be procompetitive*" (emphasis mine).  Thus, at least to
this US antitrust enforcement agency, joint negotiation of licensing terms
within an SDO *could* be viewed positively.  The FTC has indicated a
similar position.  The fact that ETSI and other SDOs have prohibited this
practice, I think, says more about the business preferences and positions
of their members than antitrust law.

Regards,
Jorge