The Qualcomm decision is unique in that it appears to be the first decision to require a SEP holder to license its patented technology to its competitors, and not just its downstream customers, on FRAND terms. This decision casts doubt on the longstanding practice, common in industries such as the telecommunication and automotive industries, in which SEP holders seek to secure “FRAND” licenses with downstream companies that make finished products, while refusing to license (or licensing on non-FRAND terms) those same SEPs to their competitors or other companies further up the supply chain (such as component suppliers). The decision also emphasizes U.S. courts’ focus on the express language of SSOs’ IPR policies and the willingness to review the SSO guidelines in interpreting the agreements SEP holders enter into with SSOs. In this regard, the decision may bode well for SEP implementers, given the court’s broad understanding of what it means to “practice” a relevant standard and its view that SEP holders’ FRAND obligations extend to all potential licensees, irrespective of their position in the supply chain.
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