Archive | Unilateral conduct RSS for this section

U.S. Qualcomm Case Update: Privilege Assertions

By Nicole Daniel

On 22 March 2018, in a court hearing in the Qualcomm case, Judge Koh expressed her concern over possible abuses in asserting legal privilege over certain documents.

In January 2017, the U.S. FTC sued Qualcomm, alleging that the company consistently refused to license its essential patents to competitors, thereby violating its pledge to standards organizations that it would license them on FRAND terms (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory). Allegedly, Qualcomm also engaged in a policy of withholding processors unless its customers agreed to patent licensing terms favorable to Qualcomm. A trial is set for January 2019.

Furthermore, a class action alleged that Qualcomm’s behavior raised the prices of devices operating with its chips.

At the hearing, judge Koh said she is “deeply disturbed” by the very high percentage of privilege assertions by Qualcomm. However, Qualcomm continues to produce documents after reviewing them again and removing earlier assertions of privilege. Judge Koh expressed her concerns at the court hearing several times and said that she will allow witnesses to be redeposed, as often as necessary, until all documents are available before testimony.

This issue centers around documents from Apple and other customers which were gathered under an EU investigation into the baseband chipsets market. Even though the plaintiffs have already obtained a redacted version of the Commission’s January 2017 decision fining Qualcomm EUR 997 million, they ask for an unredacted version. In this decision, Qualcomm was fined for paying Apple to refrain from buying rival manufacturers’ chips.

The U.S. plaintiffs argue that Qualcomm should have simply asked for third parties’ permission to share the information given to the EU investigators. Qualcomm in turn argued that it cannot circumvent EU law by making the disclosures asked for and referred to the version of the decision to be published by the Commission. In the public version, the Commission makes its own redactions. The U.S. plaintiffs further argued that they contacted Apple, as well as its contracted manufacturers, and those parties do not object to disclosure. Qualcomm replied that they could simply ask them directly for the information. In sum, the U.S. plaintiffs called Qualcomm’s behavior unfair, as it prevents them from fully understanding the EU decision.

Until early May 2018, no public version of the Commission was available. The Commission and the companies involved are still in the process of deciding on a version of the decision that does not contain any business secrets or other confidential information.

Advertisements

Facebook’s Data Sharing Practices under Unfair Competition Law

By Catalina Goanta

2018 has so far not been easy on the tech world. The first months of the year brought a lot of bad news: two accidents with self-driving cars (Tesla and Uber) and the first human casualty,[1] another Initial Coin Offering (ICO) scam costing investors $660 million,[2] and Donald Trump promising to go after Amazon.[3] But the scandal that made the most waves had to do with Facebook data being used by Cambridge Analytica.[4]

 

Data brokers and social media

In a nutshell, Cambridge Analytica was a UK-based company that claimed to use data to change audience behavior either in political or commercial contexts.[5] Without going too much into detail regarding the identity of the company, its ties, or political affiliations, one of the key points in the Cambridge Analytica whistleblowing conundrum is the fact that it shed light on Facebook data sharing practices which, unsurprisingly, have been around for a while. To create psychometric models which could influence voting behavior, Cambridge Analytica used the data of around 87 million users, obtained through Facebook’s Graph Application Programming Interface (API), a developer interface providing industrial-level access to personal information.[6]

The Facebook Graph API

The first version of the API (v1.0), which was launched in 2010 and was up until 2015, could be used to not only gather public information about a given pool of users, but also about their friends, in addition to granting access to private messages sent on the platform (see Table 1 below). The amount of information belonging to user friends that Facebook allowed third parties to tap into is astonishing. The extended profile properties permission facilitated the extraction of information about: activities, birthdays, check-ins, education history, events, games activity, groups, interests, likes, location, notes, online presence, photo and video tags, photos, questions, relationships and relationships details, religion and politics, status, subscriptions, website and work history. Extended permissions changed in 2014, with the second version of the Graph API (v2.0), which suffered many other changes since (see Table 2). However, one interesting thing that stands out when comparing versions 1.0 and 2.0 is that less information is gathered from targeted users than from their friends, even if v2.0 withdrew the extended profile properties (but not the extended permissions relating to reading private messages).

Table 1 – Facebook application permissions and availability to API v1 (x) and v2 (y)[7]

Cambridge Analytica obtained Facebook data with help from another company, Global Science Research, set up by Cambridge University-affiliated faculty Alexandr Kogan and Joseph Chancellor. Kogan had previously collaborated with Facebook for his work at the Cambridge Prosociality & Well-Being Lab. For his research, Kogan collected data from Facebook as a developer, using the Lab’s account registered on Facebook via his own personal account, and he was also in contact with Facebook employees who directly sent him anonymized aggregate datasets.[8]

Table 2 – The History of the Facebook Graph API

The Facebook employees who sent him the data were working for Facebook’s Protect and Care Team, but were themselves doing research on user experience as PhD students.[9] Kogan states that the data he gathered with the Global Science Research quiz is separate from the initial data he used in his research, and it was kept on different servers.[10] Kogan’s testimony before the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee does clarify which streams of data were used by which actors, but none of the Members of Parliament attending the hearing asked any questions about the very process through which Kogan was able to tap into Facebook user data. He acknowledged that for harvesting information for the Strategic Communication Laboratories – Cambridge Analytica’s affiliated company – he used a market research recruitment strategy: for around $34 per person, he aimed at recruiting up to 20,000 individuals who would take an online survey.[11] The survey would be accessible through an access token, which required participants to login using their Facebook credentials.

Access Tokens

On the user end, Facebook Login is an access token which allows users to log in across platforms. The benefits of using access tokens are undeniable: having the possibility to operate multiple accounts using one login system allows for efficient account management. The dangers are equally clear. On the one hand, one login point (with one username and one password) for multiple accounts can be a security vulnerability. On the other hand, even if Facebook claims that the user is in control of the data shared with third parties, some apps using Facebook Login – for instance wifi access in café’s, or online voting for TV shows – do not allow users to change the information requested by the app, creating a ‘take it or leave it’ situation for users.

Figure 1 – Facebook Login interface

On the developer end, access tokens allow apps operating on Facebook to access the Graph API. The access tokens perform two functions:

  • They allow developer apps to access user information without asking for the user’s password; and
  • They allow Facebook to identify developer apps, users engaging with this app, and the type of data permitted by the user to be accessed by the app.[12]

Understanding how Facebook Login works is essential in clarifying what information users are exposed to right before agreeing to hand their Facebook data over to other parties.

 

Data sharing and consent

As Figure 1 shows, and as it can be seen when browsing through Facebook’s Terms of Service, consent seems to be at the core of Facebook’s interaction with its users. This being said, it is impossible to determine, on the basis of these terms, what Facebook really does with the information it collects. For instance, in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities dating from 30 January 2015, there is an entire section on sharing content and information:

  1. You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacyand application settings. In addition: 
  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. 
  2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
  3. When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you.  We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.  (To learn more about Platform, including how you can control what information other people may share with applications, read our Data Policy and Platform Page.)
  4. When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
  5. We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use your feedback or suggestions without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).

This section appears to establish Facebook as a user-centric platform that wants to give as much ownership to its customers. However, the section says nothing about the fact that app developers used to be able to tap not only into the information generated by users, but also that of their friends, to an even more extensive degree. There are many other clauses in the Facebook policies that could be relevant for this discussion, but let us dwell on this section.

Taking a step back, from a legal perspective, when a user gets an account with Facebook, a service contract is concluded. If users reside outside of the U.S. or Canada, clause 18.1 of the 2015 Statement of Rights and Responsibilities mentions the service contract to be an agreement between the user and Facebook Ireland Ltd. For U.S. and Canadian residents, the agreement is concluded with Facebook Inc.[13] Moreover, according to clause 15, the applicable law to the agreement is the law of the state of California.[14] This clause does not pose any issues for agreements with U.S. or Canadian users, but it does raise serious problems for users based in the European Union. In consumer contracts, European law curtails party autonomy in choosing applicable law, given that some consumer law provisions in European legislation are mandatory, and cannot be derogated from.[15] Taking the example of imposing the much lesser protections of U.S. law on European consumers, such clauses would not be valid under EU law. As a result, in 2017 the Italian Competition and Market Authority gave WhatsApp a €3 million fine on the ground that such contractual clauses are unfair.[16]

Apart from problems with contractual fairness, additional concerns arise with respect to unfair competition. Set between competition law and private law, unfair competition is a field of law that takes into account both bilateral transactions, as well as the broader effect they can have on a market. The rationale behind unfair competition is that deceitful/unfair trading practices which give businesses advantages they might otherwise not enjoy should be limited by law.[17] As far as terminology goes, in Europe, Directive 2005/29/EC, the main instrument regulating unfair competition, uses the terms ‘unfair commercial practices’, whereas in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission refers to ‘unfair or deceptive commercial practices’.[18] The basic differences between the approaches taken in the two federal/supranational legal systems can be consulted in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2 – U.S. & EU unfair competition law (van Eijk, Hoofnagle & Kannekens, 2017)[19]

 

Facebook’s potentially unfair/deceptive commercial practices

In what follows, I will briefly refer to the 3 comparative criteria identified by van Eijk et al.[20]

The fact that a business must do something (representation, omission, practice, etc.) which deceives or is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer is a shared criterion in both legal systems. There are two main problems with Facebook’s 2015 terms of service to this end. First, Facebook does not specify how exactly the company shares user data and with whom. Second, this version of the terms makes no reference whatsoever to the sharing of friends’ data, as could be done through the extended permissions. These omissions, as well as the very limited amount of information offered to consumers, through which they are supposed to understand Facebook’s links to other companies as far as their own data is concerned, are misleading.

The second criterion, that of the reasonable/average consumer, is not so straight forward: the information literacy of Facebook users fluctuates, as it depends on demographic preferences. With the emergence of new social media platforms such as Snapchat and Musical.ly, Facebook might not be the socializing service of choice for younger generations. However, official statistics are based on data that includes a lot of noise. It seems that fake accounts make up around 3% of the total number of Facebook accounts, and duplicate accounts make up around 10% of the same total.[21] This poses serious questions regarding the European standard of the average consumer, because there is no way to currently estimate how exactly this 13% proportion would change the features of the entire pool of users. There are many reasons why fake accounts exist, but let me mention two of them. First, the minimum age for joining Facebook is 13; however, the enforcement of this policy is not easy, and a lot of minors can join the social media platform by simply lying about their age. Second, fake online profiles allow for the creation of dissociate lives: individuals may display very different behavior under the veil of anonymity, and an example in this respect is online bullying.

Figure 3 – Distribution of Facebook users worldwide as of April 2018, by age and gender (Statista, 2018)

These aspects can make it difficult for a judge to determine the profile of the reasonable/average consumer as far as social media is concerned: would the benchmark include fake and duplicate accounts? Would the reasonable/average consumer standard have to be based on the real or the legal audience? What level of information literacy would this benchmark use? These aspects remain unclear.

The third criterion is even more complex, as it deals with the likelihood of consumers taking a different decision, had they had more symmetrical information. Two main points can be made here. On the one hand, applying this criterion leads to a scenario where we would have to assume that Facebook would better disclose information to consumers. This would normally take the form of specific clauses in the general terms and conditions. For consumers to be aware of this information, they would have to read these terms with orthodoxy, and make rational decisions, both of which are known not to be the case: consumers simply do not have time and do not care about general terms and conditions, and make impulsive decisions. If that is the case for the majority of the online consumer population, it is also the case for the reasonable/average consumer. On the other hand, perhaps consumers might feel more affected if they knew beforehand the particularities of data sharing practices as they occurred in the Cambridge Analytica situation: that Facebook was not properly informing them about allowing companies to broker their data to manipulate political campaigns. This, however, is not something Facebook would inform its users about directly, as Cambridge Analytica is not the only company using Facebook data, and such notifications (if even desirable from a customer communication perspective), would not be feasible, or would lead to information overload and consumer fatigue. If this too translates into a reality where consumers do not really care about such information, the third leg of the test seems not to be fulfilled. In any case, this too is a criterion which will very likely raise many more questions that it aims to address.

In sum, two out of the three criteria would be tough to fulfill. Assuming, however, that they would indeed be fulfilled, and even though there are considerable differences in the enforcement of the prohibition against unfair/deceptive commercial practices, the FTC, as well as European national authorities can take a case against Facebook to court to order injunctions, in addition to other administrative or civil acts. A full analysis of European and Dutch law in this respect will soon be available in a publication authored together with Stephan Mulders.

 

Harmonization and its discontents

The Italian Competition and Market Authority (the same entity that fined WhatsApp) launched an investigation into Facebook on April 6, on the ground that its data sharing practices are misleading and aggressive.[22] The Authority will have to go through the same test as applied above, and in addition, will very likely also consult the black-listed practices annexed to the Directive. Should this public institution from a Member State find that these practices are unfair, and should the relevant courts agree with this assessment, a door for a European Union-wide discussion on this matter will be opened. Directive 2005/29/EC is a so-called maximum harmonization instrument, meaning that the European legislator aims for it to level the playing field on unfair competition across all Member States. If Italy’s example is to be followed, and more consumer authorities restrict Facebook practices, this could mark the most effective performance of a harmonizing instrument in consumer protection. If the opposite happens, and Italy ends up being the only Member State outlawing such practices, this could be a worrying sign of how little impact maximum harmonization has in practice.

 

New issues, same laws

Nonetheless, in spite of the difficulties in enforcing unfair competition, this discussion prompts one main take-away: data-related practices do fall under the protections offered by regulation on unfair/deceptive commercial practices.[23] This type of regulation already exists in the U.S. just as much as it exists in the EU, and is able to handle new legal issues arising out of the use of disruptive technologies. The only areas where current legal practices are in need of an upgrade deal with interpretation and proof: given the complexity of social media platforms and the many ways in which they are used, perhaps judges and academics should also make use of data science to better understand the behavior of these audiences, as long as this behavior is central for legal assessments.

[1] Will Knight, ‘A Self-driving Uber Has Killed a Pedestrian in Arizona’, MIT Technology Review, The Download, March 19, 2018; Alan Ohnsman, Fatal Tesla Crash Exposes Gap In Automaker’s Use Of Car Data, Forbes, April 16, 2018.

[2] John Biggs, ‘Exit Scammers Run Off with $660 Million in ICO Earnings’, TechCrunch, April 13, 2018.

[3] Joe Harpaz, ‘What Trump’s Attack On Amazon Really Means For Internet Retailers’, Forbes, April 16, 2018.

[4] Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, ‘Revealed: 50 Million Facebook Profiles Harvested for Cambridge Analytica in Major Data Breach’, The Guardian, March 17, 2018.

[5] The Cambridge Analytica website reads: ‘Data drives all we do. Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior. Visit our political or commercial divisions to see how we can help you.’, last visited on April 27, 2018. It is noteworthy that the company started insolvency procedures on 2 May, in an attempt to rebrand itself as Emerdata, see see Shona Ghosh and Jake Kanter, ‘The Cambridge Analytica power players set up a mysterious new data firm — and they could use it for a ‘Blackwater-style’ rebrand’, Business Insider, May 3, 2018.

[6] For a more in-depth description of the Graph API, as well as its Instagram equivalent, see Jonathan Albright, The Graph API: Key Points in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Debacle, Medium, March 21, 2018.

[7] Iraklis Symeonidis, Pagona Tsormpatzoudi & Bart Preneel, ‘Collateral Damage of Facebook Apps: An Enhanced Privacy Scoring Model’, IACR Cryptology ePrint Archive, 2015, p. 5.

[8] UK Parliament Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ‘Dr Aleksandr Kogan questioned by Committee’, April 24, 2018; see also the research output based on the 57 billion friendships dataset: Maurice H. Yearwood, Amy Cuddy, Nishtha Lamba, Wu Youyoua, Ilmo van der Lowe, Paul K. Piff, Charles Gronind, Pete Fleming, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Dacher Keltner, Aleksandr Spectre, ‘On Wealth and the Diversity of Friendships: High Social Class People around the World Have Fewer International Friends’, 87 Personality and Individual Differences 224-229 (2015).

[9] UK Parliament Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, supra note 8.

[10] Ibid.

[11] This number mentioned by Kogan in his witness testimony conflicts with media reports which indicate a much higher participation rate in the study, see Julia Carrie Wong and Paul Lewis, ‘Facebook Gave Data about 57bn Friendships to Academic’, The Guardian, March 22, 2018.

[12] For an overview of Facebook Login, see Facebook Login for Apps – Overview, last visited on April 27, 2018.

[13] Clause 18.1 (2015) reads: If you are a resident of or have your principal place of business in the US or Canada, this Statement is an agreement between you and Facebook, Inc.  Otherwise, this Statement is an agreement between you and Facebook Ireland Limited.

[14] Clause 15.1 (2015) reads: The laws of the State of California will govern this Statement, as well as any claim that might arise between you and us, without regard to conflict of law provisions.

[15] Giesela Ruhl, ‘Consumer Protection in Choice of Law’, 44(3) Cornell International Law Journal 569-601 (2011), p. 590.

[16] Italian Competition and Market Authority, ‘WhatsApp fined for 3 million euro for having forced its users to share their personal data with Facebook’, Press Release, May 12, 2018.

[17] Rogier de Vrey, Towards a European Unfair Competition Law: A Clash Between Legal Families : a Comparative Study of English, German and Dutch Law in Light of Existing European and International Legal Instruments (Brill, 2006), p. 3.

[18] Nico van Eijk, Chris Jay Hoofnagle & Emilie Kannekens, ‘Unfair Commercial Practices: A Complementary Approach to Privacy Protection’, 3 European Data Protection Law Review 1-12 (2017), p. 2.

[19] Ibid., p. 11.

[20] The tests in Figure 2 have been simplified by in order to compare their essential features; however, upon a closer look, these tests include other details as well, such as the requirement of a practice being against ‘professional diligence’ (Art. 4(1) UCPD).

[21] Patrick Kulp, ‘Facebook Quietly Admits to as Many as 270 Million Fake or Clone Accounts’, Mashable, November 3, 2017.

[22] Italian Competition and Market Authority, ‘Misleading information for collection and use of data, investigation launched against Facebook’, Press Release, April 6, 2018.

[23] This discussion is of course much broader, and it starts from the question of whether a data-based service falls within the material scope of, for instance, Directive 2005/29/EC. According to Art. 2(c) corroborated with Art. 3(1) of this Directive, it does. See also Case C‑357/16, UAB ‘Gelvora’ v Valstybinė vartotojų teisių apsaugos tarnyba, ECLI:EU:C:2017:573, para. 32.

 

 

The Ruling of the EU Court of Justice in Intel

By Giuseppe Colangelo

Almost ten years have passed since the Commission began its proceeding against Intel. However, the lawfulness of Intel’s practices remains inconclusive. In its recent judgment (Case C-413/14 P), the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) set aside a previous ruling in which the General Court affirmed the decision of the Commission to prohibit Intel’s practices, and referred the case back to the General Court.

The judgment turns on efficiency-enhancing justifications. The Grand Chamber of the CJEU, just as in Post Danmark I (Case C-209/10), reiterates that antitrust enforcement cannot disregard procompetitive effects even in the case of unilateral conduct, such as loyalty rebates. Although Article 102 does not reproduce the prohibition-exemption structure of Article 101, for the sake of consistency there must be room to allow unilateral practices as well. Therefore, like agreements restrictive by object, unilateral conduct which is presumed to be unlawful, as loyalty rebates are, can also be justified and rehabilitated because of the efficiency and consumer welfare benefits it can produce. The General Court’s formalistic approach towards Intel’s rebates demonstrated the need for the CJEU to clarify the role that assessing procompetitive effects must play in the analysis of dominant firms’ practices.

To this end, the CJEU suggests ‘clarifying’ the interpretation of Hoffman-La Roche (Case 85/76), one of the totems of EU antitrust orthodoxy. Unfortunately, it accomplishes exactly the opposite. Intel clearly supports the economic approach by denying a formalist, or per se, shortcut to the authorities. The abusive character of a behavior cannot be established simply on the basis of its form.

In Hoffman-La Roche, the CJEU pronounced that it considered any form of exclusive dealing anathema. To make the link to the exclusive dealing scenarios depicted in Hoffman-La Roche apparent, the General Court introduced a class of ‘exclusivity rebates’ in its ruling on Intel’s pricing practices. This is a new category of discounts different from the previously defined classes of quantity and fidelity rebates.

However, in its judgment the CJEU offers a different interpretation of the law on fidelity rebates. For those cases where dominant firms offer substantive procompetitive justifications for their fidelity rebates, the CJEU requires the Commission to proffer evidence showing the foreclosure effects of the allegedly abusive practice, and to analyze: (i) the extent of the undertaking’s dominant position on the relevant market; (ii) the share of the market covered by the challenged practice as well as the conditions and arrangements for granting the rebates in question, their duration and their amount; (iii) the possible existence of a strategy aimed at excluding from the market competitors that are at least as efficient as the dominant undertaking. As expressly acknowledged by the CJEU, it is this third prong – that is, the assessment of the practice’s capacity to foreclose – which is pivotal, because it “is also relevant in assessing whether a system of rebates which, in principle, falls within the scope of the prohibition laid down in Article 102 TFEU, may be objectively justified.”

The Intel ruling is also a significant step towards greater legal certainty. In addition to being able to effectively assert efficient justifications to overturn the presumption of anti-competitiveness, firms also know that for the CJEU the ‘as efficient competitor test’ (AEC test) represents a reliable proxy (although not the single or decisive criterion) of analysis that cannot be ignored, especially when used by the Commission in its evaluations.

The application of the effect-based approach to all unilateral conduct of dominant firms brings the European experience closer to the rule of reason analysis carried out under Section 2 of the Sherman Act. As indeed is explained by the Court of Appeals in Microsoft [253 F.3d 34 (D.C. Circuit 2001)], when it comes to monopolistic conduct, where the task of plaintiffs complaining about the violation of antitrust law is to show the exclusionary effects of the conduct at stake and how this has negatively affected consumer welfare, the task of the dominant firm is to highlight the objective justifications of its behavior.

The Ruling of the EU Court of Justice in Intel

U.S. District Court Grants a Preliminary Injunction Allowing Data Harvesting on LinkedIn’s Public Profiles

By Valerio Cosimo Romano

On 14 August 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (“Court”) granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against the professional social networking site LinkedIn (“Defendant”), enjoining the company from preventing access, copying, and use of public profiles on LinkedIn’s website and from blocking access to such member public profiles.

 

Background

HiQ Labs (“Plaintiff”) is a company which sells information to its clients about their workforces. This information is gathered by analyzing data collected on LinkedIn users’ publicly available profiles, which are automatically harvested by Plaintiff. HiQ is entirely dependent from LinkedIn’s data.

Plaintiff resorted to this legal action after Defendant attempted to terminate the Plaintiff’s ability to access the publicly available information on profiles of Linkedin users (after years of apparently tolerating hiQ’s access and use of its data). Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s actions constitute unfair business practices, common law tort and contractual liability, as well as a violation of free speech under the California Constitution.

 

Irreparable harm and the balance of hardships

First, the Court evaluated the existence of a potential irreparable harm for the parties. The Court concluded that, without temporary relief, hiQ would go out of business and that LinkedIn does not have a strong interest to keep the privacy of its users, who made their respective profiles publicly available on purpose. Therefore, the court recognized that the balance of hardships weighs in hiQ’s favor.

 

Likeliness to prevail on the merits

The Court went on to establish the parties’ respective likeness to prevail on the merits. It considered four claims.

 

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”)

LinkedIn argued that all of hiQ’s claims failed because hiQ’s unauthorized access to LinkedIn violates the CFAA. The CFAA establishes civil and criminal liability for any person who intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access and thereby obtains information from any protected computer. Defendant explicitly revoked the Plaintiff’s permission to acquire data on its systems. According to Defendant, the CFAA is violated when permission has been explicitly revoked by the data’s provider. Plaintiff contended that applying the CFAA to the access of public websites would expand its scope well beyond what was intended by the Congress at the time it enacted the statute since, under Defendant’s interpretation, the CFAA would not leave any room for the consideration of either a website owner’s reasons for denying authorization or an individual’s possible justification for ignoring such a denial.

The Court sided with hiQ, asserting that the CFAA is not intended to police traffic to publicly available websites. According to the Court, a broad reading of the Act would set aside the legal evolution of the balance between open access to information and privacy. Given that the CFAA was enacted well before the advent of the internet, the Court refused to interpret the statute in that manner. The Court further clarified that this does not impair the possibility for a website to employ measures aimed at preventing harmful intrusions or attacks on its servers.

 

California Constitution

According to Plaintiff, LinkedIn also violated California’s constitutional provisions on free speech, which confer broader rights than those provided by the First Amendment. In Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robbins, the California Supreme Court held that the state free speech right prohibited private owners from excluding people from their property when their property is an arena where constitutionally valuable actions take place, like engaging in political speech or sharing fundamental parts of a community’s life. The internet, hiQ contends, can be therefore interpreted as a “public space”, and thus be subject to such doctrine.

However, The Court found that no court had expressly extended Pruneyard to the internet. Thus, it concluded that no serious question had actually been raised with regard to constitutional rights under the California Constitution.

 

Unfair competition law

HiQ also argued that Defendant’s actions had the anticompetitive purpose of monetizing the data with LinkedIn’s competing product and that this conduct amounted to unfair competition under California’s unfair competition law, which broadly prohibits “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent” practices, including those practices that do not explicitly violate antitrust laws, but threaten the spirit of such laws.

According to Plaintiff, Linkedin is violating the spirit of antitrust laws in two ways: first, it is leveraging its power in the professional networking market to secure advantage in the data analytics market. Secondly, it is violating the essential facilities doctrine, which precludes a monopolist or attempted monopolist from denying access to a facility it controls that is essential to its competitors, by precluding them to enter the market.

The Court concluded that Plaintiff had presented some evidence supporting its assertions, but also remarked that during the proceedings LinkedIn may well be able to prove that its actions were not motivated by anticompetitive purposes.

 

Promissory estoppel

The Court did not recognize any basis for a further common law promissory estoppel claim based on an alleged promise made by Defendant to make the data as public as possible and even available to third parties.

According to the court, there was no proof of such a promise and Plaintiff did not cite any authority applying promissory estoppel made to someone other than the party asserting that claim.

 

Public Interest

Lastly, the Court considered the public interest. Plaintiff argued that a private party should not have the unilateral authority to restrict other private parties from accessing information that is otherwise available freely to all. Defendant, in contrast, argued that if the users knew that this data was freely available to unrestricted collection and analysis by third parties for any purposes, they would be far less likely to make the information available online.

The Court concluded that granting blanket authority to platform owners to block access to information publicly available on their websites may pose a serious threat to the free and fair flow of information on the Internet and that the questions related to antitrust enforcement leaned further in favor of granting the motion for the preliminary injunction.

ECJ Rules on Excessive Licensing Fees for Copyrights

By Martin Miernicki

On 14 September 2017 the Court of Justice of the European Union (“ECJ”) handed down its decision in AKKA/LAA v. Konkurences padome (C-177/16). The case originated in a fine imposed on the Latvian collective management organization (CMO) AKKA/LAA – which possesses a legal monopoly in Latvia – by the national competition authority. The authority asserted that the CMO had abused its dominant position by charging excessively high license rates. In the following, the Latvian Supreme Court made a reference for a preliminary ruling, asking the ECJ, inter alia,[1]

  1. whether it is appropriate to compare the rates charged by a national CMO to those rates charged by CMOs in neighboring and other member states, adjusted in accordance with the purchasing power parity index (PPP index);
  2. whether that comparison must be made for each segment of users or the average level of fees;
  3. above which threshold the differences between the compared fees indicate abusive conduct; and
  4. how a CMO can demonstrate that its license fees are not excessive.

 

Background

Article 102(a) of the TFEU declares the imposition of “unfair purchase or selling prices” as an abuse of a dominant position. The seminal case for the interpretation of this provision is United Brands v. Commission (case 27/76). Furthermore, the ECJ has repeatedly been asked to gives its opinion on this matter in the context of copyright management services. Relevant case law includes Ministère public v. Tournier (case 395/87), Kanal 5 v. STIM (C-52/07) and OSA v. Léčebné lázně Mariánské Lázně (C‑351/12). In contrast, U.S. antitrust doctrine does not, as a principle, recognize excessive pricing as an antitrust violation.

 

Decision of the court

The ECJ largely referred to the opinion of the Advocate General and confirmed that a comparison of fees charged in other member states, relying on the PPP index, may be used to substantiate the excessive nature of license rates charged by a CMO. However, the reference member states must be selected according to “objective, appropriate and verifiable” criteria (e.g., consumption habits, economic factors and cultural background) and the comparison must be made on a consistent basis (e.g., similar calculation methods). For this purpose, it is, in principle, permissible to refer to a specific segment of users if indicated by the circumstances of the individual case (paras 31-51). With regard to the level license fees, the ECJ ruled that there is no minimum threshold above which a license fee can be considered abusive; yet, the differences between the compared fees must be both significant (not a minor deviation) and persistent (not a temporary deviation). CMOs can justify their rates by reference to objective dissimilarities between the compared member states, such as differing national regulatory regimes (para 52-61).

 

Implications of the decision

The court reconfirmed its approach taken in the former decisions which introduced the comparison of fees charged in different member states as well as the “appreciably higher” standard. In the case at hand, the court further elaborated on this general concept by providing new criteria for the analysis which should assist competition authorities and courts in assessing excessive pricing under the EU competition rules. Clearly, however, it will still be challenging to apply those guidelines in practice. Furthermore, it seems that the ECJ does not consider the method of comparing license fees in other member states to be the only method for the purposes of Article 102(a) of the TFEU (see also paras 43-45 of the AG’s opinion); this might be of special relevance in cases not related to CMOs. In this connection, it is noteworthy that the ECJ expressly permitted authorities to consider the relation between the level of the fee and the amount actually paid to the right holders (hence, the CMO’s administrative costs) (paras 58-60).

Lastly – although the finding of abusive pricing appears to be the exception rather than the rule in European competition law practice – the decision supplements the case law on CMOs which is especially important since the rules of the Collective Management Directive 2014/26/EU (CMD) are relatively sparse in relation to users. Nevertheless, it should be noted that said directive contains additional standards for the CMOs’ fee policies. Article 16(2) states that tariffs shall be “reasonable”, inter alia, in relation to the economic value of the use of the licensed rights in trade and the economic value of the service provided by CMOs. These standards may be, however, overseen by national authorities (CMD article 36) which are not necessarily competition authorities. A coordinated application of the different standards by the competent authorities would be desirable in order to ensure the coherence of the regulatory regime.

[1] Focus is put here on the most important aspects of the decision.

Standards and FRAND Terms in the Post Huawei World

By Giuseppe Colangelo

The judgment of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in Huawei/ZTE (Case C-170/13)
marked a milestone in the patent war which has characterized standardization activities in the last decade. The CJEU identified the precise steps which standard essential patents (SEPs) owners and users have to follow in negotiating fair reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) royalties. Compliance with this code of conduct will shield IPRs holders from the scrutiny of competition law and, at the same time, will protect implementers from the threat of an injunction and the consequent disruptive effect on sales and production.

In primis, the patent holder must inform the SEPs user about the alleged infringement and make a specific and written FRAND offer, provided the latter has shown willingness to obtain a license on fair and reasonable terms. The exact amount of the royalty and the way in which it has been calculated should be specified in the offer. In case of refusal, the implementer must promptly propose a counter-offer that complies with FRAND requirements. If such counter-offer is also rejected, the alleged infringer must provide appropriate security to continue using the patents, either by providing a bank guarantee or by placing the requisite amount on deposit. In addition, the parties have the option to request that the royalty level be set by an independent third party decision without delay. Patent owners will instead be granted an injunction if the implementer, while continuing to use the patent in question, have not diligently responded to the first licensing offer, in accordance with recognized commercial practices in the field and in good faith, which is a matter that must be established on the basis of objective factors and which implies that there are no delaying tactics. Furthermore, with regard to liability for past acts of use, the CJEU also explained that Article 102 TFEU does not prohibit the SEPs owner from bringing an action for the award of damages or the rendering of accounts. The above requirements and considerations do not, however, deprive the potential licensee of the right to challenge the validity and essentiality of the patent at issue.

Despite the CJEU’s efforts, many shadows still loom on the horizon of the EU standard-setting community. In such a complex context, the recent activity by certain national courts in filling the gaps left by the CJEU and shedding light on some of the thorniest questions is undoubtedly welcome, and deserves the utmost consideration. Among these decisions, the UK judgement Unwired Planet v. Huawei[1] recently delivered by Mr. Justice Birss is of utmost importance.

 

The UK dispute Unwired Planet v. Huawei

Unwired Planet, a U.S. based patent assertion entity that holds a worldwide patent portfolio which includes numerous SEPs to various telecommunications standards, claimed that Huawei was an unwilling licensee. Huawei counterclaimed that Unwired Planet was abusing its dominant position by offering to license its entire global portfolio (SEPs and non-SEPs) and by demanding royalty rates higher than FRAND ones.

On 5 April 2017, the High Court of England and Wales delivered its judgement.

Justice Birss addressed several important topics. First, Birss stated that only one set of licensing terms can be ultimately considered FRAND in a given set of circumstances. From this perspective, the judge disregarded the view of those authors, U.S. judges (e.g. Robart in Microsoft v. Motorola) and perhaps even the CJEU in Huawei, according to whom FRAND may well comprise a range of terms. Indeed, although the Huawei case did not deal with FRAND pricing, yet it acknowledged that parties can make divergent FRAND offers and counter-offers, thereby confirming that there is no unambiguous FRAND point and that several distributional FRAND prices exist.

Furthermore, as a consequence of the single FRAND rate, Birss found that, during the negotiation, the parties could make offers that would not be FRAND. An obligation focused only on making FRAND offers is considered unrealistic since a process of fair negotiation will usually involve some compromise between the parties’ rival offers: if the standard setting organization demands that offers made by a patentee must themselves consist of FRAND terms, then that would condemn patentees to always end up with negotiated rates below a FRAND rate. Therefore, according to the UK Court, it makes much more sense to interpret the FRAND obligation as applicable primarily to the finally agreed terms rather than to the offers.

It seems that Birss aimed to reduce the relevance of the Huawei decision (and of the competition law, in general) also relatively to another point. After recalling the purpose of a FRAND commitment and its alleged contractual nature, the UK judgment concluded that the contractual commitments submitted to the standard setting organization (ETSI) are stricter than antitrust provisions. Indeed, since competition law fines only excessive prices, a rate can be in line with antitrust rules even if it is higher than the FRAND benchmark. In sum, according to the English Court, FRAND commitments can be enforced under contract law without recourse to competition law.

Turning to the process of negotiating FRAND licenses, with respect to the type of behavior that can be considered FRAND, the Court stated that making extreme offers and taking an intransigent approach is not FRAND. In this regard, Huawei was considered unwilling because it insisted on having an offer for just a UK license (instead of a worldwide one).

Moreover, Birss provided useful insights about the determination of FRAND rates. An appropriate way to establish the FRAND royalty would be to determine a benchmark rate governed by the value of the patentee’s portfolio: counting patents and making reference to existing comparable licenses are key steps of the determination process. In the High Court’s words, a patentee who refuses to accept those terms would be in breach of its FRAND undertaking. With respect to the non-discrimination element, the Court rejected a “hard-edged” approach capable of applying to reduce a royalty rate (or adjust any license term in any way) which would otherwise have been regarded as FRAND. On the contrary, the Court endorsed a “general” approach, which requires that rates cannot differ based on the licensee but only on the value of the portfolio licensed.

The UK judgement demonstrates that after Huawei there are still several pending questions. It is not surprising that the European Commission has recently intervened to announce a Communication in order to fill the gaps by complementing existing jurisprudence through best practice recommendations.[2]

[1] [2017] E.W.H.C. 711 (Pat).

[2] European Commission, Roadmap towards a Communication on ‘Standard Essential Patents for a European digitalised economy’, 2017, 2, available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/ares-2017-1906931_en.

Tenth Circuit holds IPRs defense available to rebut a refusal to deal antitrust claim

By Valerio Cosimo Romano

On 31 October 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (the “Court of Appeals”) held that the invocation of IPRs is a presumptively valid business justification sufficient to rebut a refusal to deal claim.

The case involved a dispute between a software company and the developer of aviation terminal charts (which provide pilots with the information necessary to navigate and land at a specific airport). The developer holds copyrights for portions of its charts, which use a proprietary format. The parties negotiated and executed a license and cooperation agreement under which the developer would waive its standard licensing fee and grant the software company access to proprietary products that facilitate the integration of the developer’s terminal charts into third-party systems. In exchange, the software company would create a data management reader that works in conjunction with an e-book viewer. After the execution of the agreement, the software company registered with Apple as a software application developer and requested the necessary toolkit from the developer to develop an app. The developer did not provide the toolkit. Rather, it announced it had created its own app, offered to its customers at no additional cost beyond their terminal chart subscription fee.

The software development company sued the developer. The district court granted summary judgment for developer on the antitrust claims but denied summary judgment on the remaining claims for loss of profits, awarding more than $43 million in damages. The developer appealed, challenging only the district court’s ruling related to the loss of profits. The software company cross-appealed, challenging the dismissal of its antitrust claims, alleging a single anticompetitive conduct consisting in a refusal to deal, in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act.

To determine whether a refusal to deal violates § 2, the Court of Appeals first looked at market power in the relevant market, in which the court assumed that the developer enjoyed monopoly power. Second, the Court of Appeals looked at the use of the product, and concluded that the assertion of IPRs is a presumptively rational business justification for a unilateral refusal to deal. In its legal reasoning, the Court of Appeals relied on the approach taken by both the First and Federal Circuits in Data General and Xerox, respectively. In Data General, the First Circuit held that while exclusionary conduct can be pursued by refusing to license a copyright, an author’s desire to exclude others from use of its copyrighted work is a presumptively valid business justification for any immediate harm to consumers. In Xerox, a Federal Circuit declined to examine the defendant’s motivation in asserting its right to exclude under the copyright laws, absent any evidence that the copyrights were obtained by unlawful means or used to gain monopoly power beyond what provided for by the law. Quoting Novell and Trinko, the Court of Appeals also recognized the existence of a limited exception, available only where the plaintiff can establish the parties had a preexisting, voluntary, and presumably profitable business relationship, and its discontinuation suggests a willingness to forsake short-term profits to achieve anti-competitive ends. On this last point, the Court of Appeals held that the software developer did not present any evidence.

Therefore, it concluded that the developer did not have an independent antitrust duty to share its intellectual property with the software company. Consequently, it reversed and vacated the jury’s award of lost profits, but affirmed the partial summary judgment on software company’s antitrust claims.