Category: Intellectual Property & Licensing
“Free Sherlock” Litigation Raises Specter of Antitrust Liability for Distributors Cooperating With Intellectual Property Owners
Leslie Klinger, noted Sherlock Holmes scholar and lawyer, has waged a nearly all-out legal offensive against the Estate of Arthur Conan Doyle over the Estate’s assertion of a copyright in connection with certain works featuring the iconic Sherlock Holmes. The lawsuit has been a media darling─reports have appeared in outlets such as Businessweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, and The New York Times─with the press often emphasizing the David-and-Goliath-like aspects of the litigation. A website entitled Free Sherlock has chronicled the ups and downs of the lawsuit (mostly ups for Klinger), and the litigation also inspired its own Twitter hashtag: #freesherlock. Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit has stirred the copyright pot with an antitrust analysis that could ensnare distributors that refuse to distribute products that allegedly infringe the rights of an intellectual property owner.
As we noted last month, the DOJ invited public comment last June on whether to modify its consent decrees with the music licensing firms ASCAP and BMI to respond to changes in the digital music business. The DOJ review comes on the heels of decisions issued last year in the Southern District of New York, by Judges Cote and Stanton, holding that the consent decrees did not permit music publishers to partially withhold digital performance rights – which the publishers sold separately, at a premium, to the streaming music service Pandora. The challenge now will likely be convincing the DOJ (and, if necessary, the district court) – that the decrees have already achieved their purposes – or are no longer suited to do so – despite recent finding of coordinated, anticompetitive conduct by some of the key players in the dispute.
Direct Evidence of Patent Holder’s Pricing Power Doesn’t Lead to Summary Judgment on Existence of Monopoly Power
We wrote earlier about the DOJ’s efforts to use direct evidence to show that the rules Amex imposes on merchants harm competition. The district court’s decision denying summary judgment to the plaintiff in Apotex v. Cephalon presents an apparently novel attempt to use direct evidence of market power to prove an antitrust case at the summary judgment stage and avoid tricky issues of market definition.
The intersection of IP and antitrust has always been fraught. The raison-d’être of the Sherman, Clayton, and FTC Acts is to bust trusts and promote competition. Meanwhile, intellectual property laws create lawful exclusionary rights.
This series will explore one particular point of tension: the battle over “reverse payment settlements” pursuant to which the plaintiff in a patent infringement action agrees to “pay” the alleged infringer to keep the infringer’s product off the market for a period of time. In these “pay-for-delay” arrangements, the province of the pharmaceuticals industry, the settling parties are a brand-name drug manufacturer and the maker of a generic equivalent.
In June 2014, the DOJ announced that it planned to review the consent decrees with music licensing firms ASCAP and BMI. These consent decrees were initially entered in 1941; the ASCAP consent decree was last amended in 2001 and the BMI consent decree was last amended in 1994. The DOJ asked for comments concerning whether the consent decrees "need to be modified to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners." On August 6, ASCAP and BMI filed public comments regarding the consent decree review.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard oral argument this week in In Re: Nexium (Esomeprazole) Antitrust Litigation in an appeal of a lower court’s decision certifying a class of drug consumers and third-party payors challenging AstraZeneca’s “pay-for-delay” patent suit settlements, as reported by the National Law Journal.
We are pleased to announce the launch of Antitrust Update, Patterson Belknap’s new resource for the latest news and happenings in the antitrust and competition law arena.
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