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Intellectual Property Rights

Info: 1679 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 19th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): EU Law


Intellectual property rights are

those exclusive rights granted to the owners there in to behave in a particular

manner with a view to economically exploiting the result of their intellectual

labour. They include patents, designs, registered as well as unregistered, copy

rights, including computer software, trademarks, secret and substantial know

how and other analogous rights. Competition law, in common parlance, seeks to

take away monopolistic rights with a view to protect competition and maximise consumer

welfare. It is therefore no surprise that historically, these two areas of law

have regarded each other with mutual suspicion and there has existed tacit


However, the development of case law and policy over the decades shows

that this view is overly naive and probably wrong. It becomes important to

understand that even though intellectual property rights confer exclusive use,

it is not the same as an economic monopoly. It is merely a film of immunity

from competing undertakings. The real issue for consideration is whether

intellectual property and competition law are fundamentally contradictory to

one another or whether, in practice, they are just different means to achieve

the same goals? In the 20th century, the courts seemed to hold the

opinion that intellectual property sought to take away what competition law strived

to achieve, in that they were mutually incompatible.

Today, it is an accepted

school of thought that intellectual property and competition law strive to

achieve common goals promoting interests of the consumers, effective

allocation of resources and most importantly, promoting innovation. In my

analysis of the trend in the relationship between intellectual property and

competition law, I will also draw reference to various Department of Justice (DOJ)

and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) documents which showcase a clear shift in

attitude from a time when intellectual property was perceived by competition

lawyers to impede competition to now, when intellectual property agreements are

expected to boost economic efficiency and in fact are considered pro-competitive.

A holder of an intellectual

property may either exploit the property himself, or he may grant licences to

another to enable him to do so. There may be many reasons as to why he chooses

to do so. While licensing his property, the owner may also impose various other

restrictions such as quality of goods produced, quantity of goods produced or

the price at which they are sold, geographical area, etc. This leads me to

consider the relationship between intellectual property licensing agreements and

article 81 of the EC treaty. It can be seen that the commission’s policy on

intellectual property licensing agreements has evolved and developed

significantly over the last few decades.

Initially, in the 1960s, a very

permissive approach was adopted. This is illustrated by the 1962 Notice on

Patent Licensing Agreements [24 Dec. 1962 JO 2922/62] where even exclusive

patent licensing was not considered to infringe Article 81(1) as long as the

restrictions were within the scope of the patent. As time passed, the stand of

the commission hardened and assumed a more formalistic and interventionist

approach, moving towards the position that all exclusive licences, unless de

minimus, infringed Article 81. The position was essentially that any

intellectual property licence which went beyond simply exploiting the property

against payment of royalty was a violation of art 81(1).

Momentous to this

change was the decision of the ECJ in Consten & Grundig (Consten

& Grundig v. Commission [1966] ECR 229) where the court drew an almost

unnatural distinction between the ‘existence’ and ‘exercise’ of an intellectual

property right. This distinction between grant of and exercise of the right can

be further seen in Deutsche Grammophon (Deutsche Grammophon

Gesellschaft v. Metro-SB_Grobmarkte GmbH [1971] ECR 487). Even though, in

the real world, non-exclusive licences were commercially non viable, throughout

the 1970s the commission ruled in a string of decisions that exclusive licenses

were restrictive of competition and were caught by the provisions of Article

81(1). Although in Nungesser v. Commission (Case 258/78 [1982] ECR 2015)

(also referred to as maize seeds case) the ECJ held that exclusive licence did

not ipso facto infringe Article 81(1), in that it drew a difference

between an ‘open exclusive agreement’ and an exclusive licence conferring

absolute territorial protection. In the years following the judgement, the ECJ

adopted a very narrow approach as to it’s application.

The reluctance on the

part of the commission to apply the maize seed doctrine can be seen in various

later judgements of Velcro/Aplix(OJ [1985] L 233/22); Tetra Pack I (OJ [1988] L 272/27); Delta Chemie/DDD Ltd (OJ [1988] L 309/34). The

introduction of the new Technology Transfer Block Exemption, Regulation 772/2004 accompanied by the Technology Transfer Guidelines has signalled a more practical

and economic approach to these types of agreements.

The law of intellectual property

confers exclusive rights. Article 82, simply put, prohibits the abuse of a

dominant position by any dominant undertaking. The question therefore remains

whether Article 82 can be used to limit the exclusive rights granted by the

intellectual property in the case of a dominant undertaking. The ECJ, through

various judgements, has made it quite clear that it is not the ownership of the

intellectual property but it’s improper exercise which can be questioned under

Article 82.

Much debated over the years is the question as to what extent the

owner of an intellectual property can be compelled into licensing it to a third

party. In the Renault case (1988 ECR 6039) and Volvo v. Erik Veng (1988

ECR 6211), the courts took a rather orthodox view on the matter. However, in

the Magill case (OJ 1989 L 78/43), Oscar Bronner (Case C 7/97

1998 ECR I – 7791) and IMS Health (Case C 418/01 2004 ECR I – 5039), the

court assumed a much less orthodox stand. I will discuss the meaning and

consequence of these decisions in detail in the course of my research essay.

My research essay will therefore

attempt to establish a trend in the way in which the Community Courts and the Commission

have regarded the relationship between Intellectual Property Rights and

Competition Law under two broad headings,

(a) Intellectual Property Rights

and Article 81 (b) Intellectual Property Rights and Article 82.


Richard Whish, Competition Law (6th edn., Oxford ´┐ŻUniversity Press), chapter 19

This leading practitioner text

book is a comprehensive guide for EC Competition Law and useful as a source of

reference for the two main issues raised in my outline. It is up-to-date and

excellently written with complicated concepts put forward in an easily

understandable way.

Alison Jones and Brenda Sufrin, Text,

Cases, and Materials: EC Competition Law (3rd edn., Oxford

University Press) Chapter 10

This is an accomplished text that

provides invaluable insight into the subject of European Competition law. It is

a useful source of reference for the issues covered in my research essay. It

contains a judicious balance of analysis, cases and materials. The cases are

excellent with the right mix of facts, judgement and comments.

Kirsty Middleton, Blackstone’s

UK & EC Competition Documents (5th edn., Oxford

University Press)

This statute book covers all the

relevant Notices and Guidelines I will be referring to in my research essay. It

offers unparralled coverage with primary and secondary legislation and

up-to-date material.



S. D. Anderman and J.

Kallaugher Technology Transfer and the New EU Competition Rules:

Intellectual Property Licensing after the Modernisation (Oxford University

Press, 2006)

S. Anderson, EC

Competition Law and Intellectual Property Rights (Clarendon Press, 1998)

C. Bernard, The

Substantive Law of the EU (Oxford University Press, 2004)

L.Bently and B.

Sherman, Intellectual Property Law 2nd edition (Oxford

University Press, 2004)

Korah, V., Intellectual

Property Rights and the EC Competition Rules, (Hart Publishing, 2006)

Govaere, I., The

Use and Abuse of Intellectual Property Rights in the EC Law (Sweet &

Maxwell, 1996)


Dolmans, M.,and, Pilola,

A., ‘The New Technology Transfer Block Exemption, A Welcome Reform After All’

[2004] 27(3) World Competition 351

L.Peeperkorn, ‘IP

Licences and Competition Rules: Striking the Right Balance’ (2003) 26 World

Competition 527, 527-28

Venit, J., ‘In the Wake

of Windsurfing: Patent Licensing in the Common Market’ [1986] Fordham Corp L

Inst 517

Cotter, T.F.,

‘Intellectual Property and the Essential Facilities Doctrine’ [1999] Antitrust

Bull 211

Knoll/Hille-Form XIIIth Report on Competition Policy (1983)

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