Friday 30 June 2017

Intellectual property and competition law

Always an interesting topic ...

Hemphill, C. Scott, Intellectual Property and Competition Law (May 9, 2017). Forthcoming, Oxford Handbook of Intellectual Property Law (Rochelle C. Dreyfuss & Justine Pila eds. 2017). Available at SSRN: or

And another article of interest:

Lim, Daryl, Retooling the Patent-Antitrust Intersection: Insights from Behavioral Economics (April 14, 2017). 69 Baylor Law Review 124 (2017). Available at SSRN:

Thursday 29 June 2017

"The Great Intellectual Property Trade-Off"

Tim Harford ("The Undercover Economist") is, I find, always worth reading, and here is his take on the intellectual property system via the BBC (the website article is based on a programme on the World Serve). Nothing new in saying that there is a trade-off involved in the intellectual property system, of course, we have known that for a long time, but it's good to see it aired in this way. The chilling effect of James Watt's steam engine patents is interesting, and I hadn't fully appreciated that before (nor that Watt also suffered because of other patents). Remember though that the patent system was in its infancy in those days, and modern patent legislation is unlikely to allow this to be repeated.

Mr Harford cites "the economists Michele Boldrin and David Levine". ("The economists"? Surely there are more than two?) Their book Against Intellectual Monopoly can be downloaded from here. They are from Washington University of St. Louis, Economics Department, and have done a lot of work on the economics of intellectual property (though what bears a date seems to be ten or more years old). The idea of the book is intriguing, but I am somewhat concerned about the lack of information about publishers - of course self-publication is perfectly respectable, but I'd like to see something objective to enable me to judge whether to spend time reading it (or to suggest my students read it). At first glance, it looks like a popular rather than a scholarly work. It lacks footnotes, though there are extensive notes at the end of each chapter. I would also like to know when it was written - I haven't found a reference to a source later than 2005 yet. Mr Harford should give his readers a bit more information, although I don't expect high levels of academic rigour in his work (that's one of its attractions). When I read more of the book I will write more about it.

And while I am writing about the BBC - "The Bottom Line" on Radio 4, presented by Evan Davis, had a recent episode entitled "Corporate Espionage". It's currently available to download as a podcast here. It features serial inventor and entrepreneur Mandy Haberman, patent attorney Vicki Salmon and investigator-cum-author Chris Morgan Jones. Different intellectual property rights get a little confused but it's definitely worth listening to.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Google in record fine for abuse of dominant position

Google has been fined a record €2.42 billion (more than twice as much as expected, and indeed twice as much as the "bung" given by the UK government to persuade the DUP to maintain it in office) for abusing its dominant position, contrary to Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Commission found that the search engine gave illegal prominence to Google's comparison shopping service. Unless it terminates the abuse within 90 days, the company will become liable to daily penalty payments up to 5% of the global turnover Google's parent, Alphabet.

The competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said:
Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.
What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.
The Commission keeps imposing record fines on technology companies. In 2009 it fined a record Intel €1.06 billion for paying manufacturers and a retailer to favour its products over those of AMD, surpassing the €497 million penalty imposed on Microsoft in 2004. There's a brief survey of the eight biggest fines imposed on technology companies for breaches of EU competition rules on the Computer Business review website here. And there is, I think, an outstanding investigation into another abuse by Google involving Google Play and the Google search engine being installed on smartphones. There's also the Commission's state aid case involving the Irish tax authorities and Apple. So many that commentators write about the EU being at war with Silicon Valley - which just happens to be where many of the dominant firms come from (and incidentally a long way from Redmond, WA). The fact remains, however, that there is an interesting phenomenon here as the law on abuse of dominant position (and the penalties for breaches) develops. The fact is, the technology sector offers huge scope for abuses of one sort or another.

There's too much to do to write more about the Google decision right now but I will get back to the story later. If you want to know more here is the Commission's press release. There's also an interesting Fact Sheet. And, with a hat-tip to Warwick Rothnie's blog, Ben Thomposon's comments on are also well worth reading. I found them very eye-opening.

Monday 19 June 2017

India: Balancing Competition - SEP Injunctions

SEP Injunctions and the Balance of IPRs and Competition in India is a posting on the IP finance blog by Mike Mireles, linking to an article in the Financial Express by Professor V.K. Unni of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta entitled 'Promoting Innovation: Moving Towards a Better Intellectual Property Regime'. 

The balance between IP rights and competition law is of course a crucial one to lawyers in either of (or, more likely, both) those disciplines. The learned Professor notes that the the Delhi High Court has recently considered whether the competition authorities are entitled to consider possible abuses of dominant positions by owners of standards-essential patents, and has concluded that they can, which sounds rather like the process that the Court of Justice went through many years ago to reconcile the provisions of the (then) Treaty of Rome with national intellectual property laws. But it's not for me to tell you what IP Finance, or Prof Unni, said - follow the link and read it for yourself. As my students might find themselves doing next year ...

Sunday 18 June 2017

Theft: A History of Music

Thinking about how to engage students coming to intellectual property law for the first time is something that occupies my thoughts quite a lot these days. A copyright comic might be just the answer - and if it deals mostly with the law from that other common law jurisdiction across the Atlantic, that's not necessarily a disadvantage if the purpose of the exercise is to kindle interest rather than teach hard law. And if it has "theft" in the title I will be prepared to suspend my usual reaction to the connection of that concept with intellectual property.

A large part of grabbing a student's attention is finding a route into intellectual property law from somewhere they already know and like. Music provides an excellent entrée into copyright law - probably not Mozart, but possibly some of the more recent and high-profile cases, the two most celebrated of which were US cases (but there are many from the UK too). Music copyright is precisely what James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins’ new scholarly comic book tells us about. It is (the blurb tells us) 'a celebration of these and other musicians and composers who crossed barriers and built the playlist of extraordinary Western music from ancient Greece to classical to hip-hop. Published by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, “Theft: A History of Music,” brings these artists’ musical borrowings to the forefront, saying that instead of stifling creativity, such “thefts” were essential to musical cross-fertilization and creation of new genres.'

The blurb continues: 'But the book also comes with a warning: At every point of new musical innovation, there was resistance and efforts to control music, whether it was from philosophers, the church, or politicians.'

You can read the full article here, and listen to James Boyle discuss the comic on NPR's The State of Things. The mere fact that it's the work (partly) of Jim Boyle is enough to sell it to me: he's an excellent writer and lecturer and I have enjoyed his work in the past, although this is the first comic book of his that I have read (the first comic book of any kind that I've read, since I gave up "war bluds" at school). I read it, pretty much in one sitting, and found it stimulating, entertaining and informative. It's going to be an ideal introduction to copyright concepts in courses I teach in the future, and best of all (coming as it does from individuals and an institution committed to the furtherance of the public domain) it's a free download. What  more could you ask?

Friday 16 June 2017

Positional goods

Many things bother me about the state of the world. One idea that made a deep impression on me when I first read about it in "Social Limits to Growth" by the  late Fred Hirsch is what he called positional goods. I took a couple of Prof Hirsch's courses at Warwick, and learnt a great deal from them (I could have learnt a great deal more, but a memo from him tucked inside my copy of "Social Limits" explains why I didn't: it starts "I don't seem to have been seeing you at the seminar lately ..."). I bought his books, and remember struggling to read "Social Limits" during a sleepless night at the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, when camping in a tent brought on an attack of asthma and I spent several hours sitting in the Hillman Avenger in which my brother and I had travelled to the event. But I digress - except that this explains why my attempt to read the book were less than successful.

I did, however, take on board the idea that there are limits to growth. If everyone moves to the countryside because it's pretty and quiet, it will cease to be pretty and quiet. This is happening right now all around me. And contemplating what I think JK Galbraith identified as the problem of private affluence and public poverty (highlighted by the appalling death toll in the Grenfell Tower fire, which must have at least something to do with the public sector being starved of money), I wonder how the super-rich imagine they will derive any pleasure from their wealth if, as they travel between their City base and their place in the country, they have to negotiate traffic jams and potholed roads, or a rail system brought to a halt by defective signals or a "jumper" (a "person under a train", in official language). Even if they fly, they will see plumes of smoke from burning tower blocks. Not every day, of course, but once in a decade is much too often.

So, houses in the countryside are positional goods. They rely for their value on scarcity. This thought brought me to something else which has troubled me for years (though it is not something that would ever bring about the end of the world*), namely parallel imports of luxury goods. Trade mark owners resist parallel imports because they interfere with their pricing strategy, which is based on maintaining exclusivity, which means that luxury branded goods are positional goods like country cottages. Consumers - some of them, anyway - want to be able to buy them cheap from Tesco, but the whole point about positional goods is that if they are available cheap from Tesco they are no longer worth having.

Hirsch also wrote about the commercialization effect (and yes, he did spell it with a "z"), under which supplying something commercially diminishes the quality of a good or service. Or, to put it another way (as Wikipedia does) "market exchange ... diminishes the inherent value of the transaction by subordinating social well-being to the commodification impulse." And that leads me to think about commodification (a topic on which Marx had a lot to say), which seems to me to be what intellectual property law is all about - taking intangible creations and turning them into something that can be traded. There's a lot to think about here, and I think it is now high time I read the book (which I notice I bought in 1980 at the bookshop at Conservative Central Office, and that in itself raises some interesting questions).

* Although as my old friend - as in, he was a friend a long time ago, but I have not seen him for many years - Sir Michael Fallon once said, "it's not the end of the world - but you can see it from there". No, I won't tell you of where he was speaking.

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