China: Antitrust Response To PAE (In Chinese)

Last Updated: 5 April 2016
Article by AnJie Law Firm

摘要:PAE的日益活跃在全球引起广泛关注,法学方面的讨论也从知识产权法扩展到反垄断法。以美国为代表的部分反垄断司法辖区更是高度重视PAE专利运营活动带来的问题。目前来看,PAE的专利交易和权利主张活动并未对传统反垄断法分析框架带来实质性挑战,也未出现PAE专属的新型排除、限制竞争行为,基于PAE这一主体维度设计特殊的反垄断规则并无必要。PAE与其他主体应平等适用反垄断法,执法部门应基于PAE拥有的特殊能力与动机,结合个案环境具体评估PAE实施的特定行为所带来的竞争影响。

关键词:NPE;PAE;反垄断

一、基本背景

(一)PAE的概念

美国联邦贸易委员会(FTC)在其2003年发布的报告《促进创新:竞争与专利法律政策的适度平衡》中提出"非实施主体"(Non-practicing Entity,简称NPE)的概念 。此后,FTC逐渐将其目光集中到其中一类通常被称为"专利流氓"(Patent Troll)的主体身上,在2011年的报告《演变中的知识产权市场:专利声明与救济和竞争的协调》中提出了"专利主张实体"(Patent Assertion Entities,简称PAE),PAE的主要商业模式是收购各类专利后通过向那些使用了相关专利技术的主体主张权利而获取收益 。NPE所涵盖的范围较PAE更为广泛,包括了高校和研发机构等以技术研发和转移转化为主要活动的专利持有人。

(二)PAE商业模式的主要特征

第一,区别于执业实体 (Practicing Entity)和高校、研发机构等NPE,PAE关注专利权利的实施而非技术研发和商业化应用,其获取专利的目的在于从其声称的侵权人处获利。PAE也包括了将其主要活动从对专利的积极开发与实际应用转移到权利主张上的专利持有人,以及仅投入少量研发资金获取专利的公司。

第二,PAE的专利运营活动包括专利许可、专利诉讼和专利交易,其专利主要来自有目的、有针对性的兼并或专利收购。PAE从研发公司、执业实体或个体发明人手中获得专利或专利集合,通过向使用其专利技术的对象收取许可费来获利,并以出让金、许可费分成或二者结合的方式补偿专利出让人。此外,PAE的权利主张活动也可能利用的是第三人手中的专利。

第三,PAE通常不会在专利授权早期展开权利主张活动,通过收集专利(包括权利声明模糊、技术价值有限的专利),在无翔实证据的情况下以权利遭受侵犯为由要求对方支付可观的许可费用,部分目标企业在已经投入成本进行专利改进和应用的情况下,会基于避免诉讼风险的考量而选择向其妥协。

第四,PAE通常在其专利运营活动中有策略地通过设立壳公司、要求交易对象签订保密协议等方式掩盖其真实身份和专利信息。

二、域外进展

(一)整体概况

PAE的专利运营活动由于对企业正常运营、技术研发活动的现实影响,以及对社会创新、消费者福利和市场竞争秩序的潜在威胁,受到了来自政府、学者和企业界日益强烈的关注。美国作为目前PAE活动最为活跃,受其影响最为明显的国家,采取了多项立法、司法与行政举措,意图应对PAE及其带来的诸多问题。

美国联邦及地区法院近年来在专利案件中有关专利适格性、效力认定、侵权认定、禁令颁发标准、损害赔偿数额认定及诉讼费用负担等方面的裁判,体现出对专利进行强保护思路的纠偏。美国法院系统也被期待能够在解决PAE问题上起到关键作用,逐步改变其对专利制度的观念,以保守但有效的方式对专利制度中可能导致PAE滋生的的系统性问题采取措施。

从2012年起,多部针对PAE问题的法案先后在美国国会提出,试图从合理分配权利主张费用、增加专利权属透明度、改进美国专利和商标局(USPTO)的专利授权后复审规则、提高请求救济标准、革新诉讼中的不当合并规则 和保证金制度等多个方面对美国专利制度进行改良。美国各州已有26部法案签署并生效,从保护商业秩序和消费者权益的目的出发,针对PAE所谓的"恶意认定专利侵权行为"(Bad Faith Assertions of Patent Infringement)进行规制。

美国政府问责办公室(Government Accountability Office)2013年8月发布报告《知识产权:评估专利侵权诉讼的影响因素有助于提高专利质量》 ,从PAE背后所运用的专利权入手,试图追本溯源提供实证分析,并对其牟利的代表性工具——计算机软件专利提出可能的解决方案。2013年6月4日白宫提出了旨在保护创新和提高专利质量的5项行政措施和7项立法建议,并于同月发布报告《专利权利主张与美国创新》 ,将箭头直指PAE现象本身并提出应对措施 。被认为在eBay案之后成为又一PAE活跃舞台的美国国际贸易委员会(ITC)也从案件启动条件、调查程序和排除令颁发标准等方面进行了有针对性的改革。目前来看,在美国,立法者、行政机关和法院一起努力控制PAE活动的结果喜忧参半。

PAE的出现及其大规模的专利运营活动背后体现的是现有专利制度中存在的不足或缺陷,但仅对专利制度的改革可能不足以应对PAE带来的诸多现实问题。此外,对专利制度的变革同样会对其他的专利持有人产生影响。在官方和学界尚未就PAE与其他专利持有人之间是否存在实质区别达成一致认识,也无强有力的数据证明其专利运营活动的现实危害的情况下,将其直接贴上"流氓"的标签并加以禁止或予以区别对待,显然不是最佳途径。

(二)反垄断方面的进展

PAE专利运营活动由于对竞争秩序以及消费者福利的潜在影响,其也逐渐引起反垄断执法机构和学者的关注。PAE将包括弱专利(Weak Patent)在内的专利集中并整合成潜在的被许可对象难以绕过的专利集合,这种专利运营策略一定程度上体现了PAE的定价能力,在某一具体领域内可能对许可价格产生影响。PAE以权利主张作为核心活动,不生产或销售产品,免于承担反诉及相应的禁令风险,无需考虑与其他公司的交叉许可,因此有动机更富侵略性地利用手中的专利,比一般的专利持有人更有可能滥用专利权。PAE可能依据协议在获取专利(或者专利许可)后向出让人或许可人的特定竞争对手发起权利主张活动,受雇或在诉讼过程中接受帮助 来提高其竞争对手的相应成本,使得PAE的客户得以在风险较小的情况下打击自己的竞争对手,即实施所谓的"专利私掠行为"(Patent Privateering)。Thomas L. Ewing进一步指出,PAE活动背后标志着专利货币化市场的逐渐形成,除了可能诱发反竞争行为,还具有推动专利价值虚高而加重下游厂商负担,诱导风险资本流向从而影响经济稳定性等潜在的危害。

FTC在2011年表示了对PAE的商业模式的关注,并在之后与美国司法部开展合作进一步探讨PAE活动对于创新和竞争的影响,以及相应的反垄断执法措施与政策。对于PAE活动的潜在危害和效率,FTC认为需要更多实证数据进行支持,目前可获取的相关数据仅限于专利诉讼,而PAE的专利运营活动也涉及专利交易、专利许可等其他问题。FTC进而依据《联邦贸易委员会法》启动了有关PAE的专项调查研究,并在无线通讯行业内进行详细的信息采集。据悉,FTC将在2015年底最终完成该项调查并发布研究报告。直至目前,美国的执法机构尚未针对PAE及其专利运营活动发起反垄断调查或进行有关执法规制的修订。

韩国公平贸易委员会(KFTC)在2014年12月最新修订的《关于知识产权不当行使的指南》 中新增了对NPE和PAE专利活动的规制。KFTC认为NPE(包括PAE)由于自身并不制造商品,无需进行交叉许可从而避免反诉风险,因此比一般的专利持有人更有可能滥用专利权。因此韩国新指南明确列举了数种由NPE和PAE频繁实施,可能被认定违法的涉及知识产权的不当行为。加拿大竞争局6月9日公布的《知识产权执行指南(征求意见稿)》 新增了对专利持有人滥发侵权警告函行为的分析,这一行为被认为是PAE在其权利主张活动中的典型表现。

三、PAE限制竞争行为的主要表现

Mark A. Lemley等学者对PAE目前的主要商业模式进行了分类,具体包括:第一,进行大规模尽职调查,以定义范围明确的专利为基础,只针对特定对象发起诉讼威胁以期待能获得一次性较大回报的"彩票"(Lottery)模式;第二,拥有少许定义范围不明确的专利,向不特定多数对象寻求和解的"底层喂食"(Bottom Feeding)模式;第三,累积大量专利库存形成巨型专利集合,使得使用者在许可费上让步的"专利垒筑"(Patent Aggregation)模式等。在不同商业模式下PAE所实施的专利交易或权利主张行为,可能具有排除、限制竞争的威胁。目前看来反垄断法规范的经营者集中、垄断协议以及滥用市场支配地位,PAE都可能实施。

(一)经营者集中

PAE的"专利垒筑"活动通过大规模的专利收购交易实现,不论交易涉及的是标准必要专利(SEPs)还是非标准必要专利,都被认为会增强PAE滥用市场力量的能力与动机,进而可能在特定的技术市场产生封锁效应,而当PAE对某技术领域的可替代专利进行收购时,竞争受损害的风险更是会明显提高。2015年3月美国马里兰州地方法院在Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Capital One Fin. Corp案的审理过程中,支持了被告Capital One公司对原告高智公司有关垄断行为的反诉,认为高智公司通过有目的的专利垒筑活动,获得3500项金融服务领域的专利并组成集合,排除了专利权人之间在金融服务行业就专利许可进行的竞争,提高了市场准入门槛。法官特别指出,高智公司的专利垒筑行为带来的影响是累积性的,随着其收购的专利数量的提升,最终可能达到垄断地位,从而违反《克莱顿法》第七条。

对于涉及标准必要专利的合并,反垄断执法机构关注的是持有人是否具有动机和能力改变SEPs的使用方式,规避FRAND承诺,通过提高许可费率等方式劫持目标企业,排除或限制竞争。针对PAE的专利垒筑活动,执法机构在进行反竞争效果分析时还可以考虑,其合同条款(如约定以将来的权利主张收益作为专利交易的对价)和投资模式(如许诺高额回报的基金)是否强化了PAE进行权利主张活动的动机,是否存在与执业实体的特殊关系使得后者能够在承担不对称风险的情形下打击其竞争对手。比如2011年7月Apple、Microsoft等几家公司联合竞价获得Nortel Networks公司多达6000项专利在内的专利集合,之后设立了Rockstar Consortium进行独立的专利运营,其成员对整个专利集合保留无偿的使用权。2013年10月Rockstar Consortium向Google以及包括华为、三星和LG公司在内的数家公司发起了专利侵权诉讼。Rockstar Consortium以专利权利主张收益作为其唯一收入,并且免于承担反诉风险,因此有动机侵略性地利用其专利集合。而作为其成员的几家公司通过将权利主张活动外包,回避了受到Google及其他安卓设备制造商反诉的风险,能够以更低的成本与之展开竞争,因此其专利收购及之后所谓"专利私掠"的行为,涉嫌违反《克莱顿法》第七条和《谢尔曼法》第一条。

(二)垄断协议

执业实体可能与专利权利运营水平更高更专业的PAE达成协议,将手中专利进行许可或转让,由后者进行有针对性的权利主张。具有竞争关系的执业实体此时可能达成横向垄断协议,利用PAE打击共同的竞争对手,提高其成本。当PAE手中的专利累积到一定规模,在某特定市场中占据相当份额时,执业实体可以通过PAE不对称地提高竞争者及新进者的成本,有效提高市场准入门槛,降低该市场内的竞争。2009年Avistar Communications公司出售了99项专利和26项专利申请给高智公司,2010年6月高智将其转售给Pragmatus公司,后者在5个月后就用其中几项专利对Facebook、Youtube等几家大公司提起了专利诉讼。2011年9月Mosaid Technologies公司(简称Mosaid公司)从诺基亚手中收购了Core Wireless公司及其2000项专利(包括1200项SEPs)。依据协议,诺基亚按比例获得包括专利许可费在内的通过权利主张活动所取得的收益,Mosaid公司则需在未达到预期盈利目标的情形下将专利返还给出让方。Mosaid利用该专利集合进行权利主张的动机得到了强化,并很有可能针对诺基亚的竞争对手发动专利诉讼、要求高额许可费以提高其成本,或者拒绝授予专利许可。比如2012年3月Mosaid公司的一家附属公司就对苹果公司提出了专利侵权诉讼。

另外,PAE与执业实体组成联盟后可能对非联盟成员的公司拒绝许可、设立歧视性的许可条件,或者形成价格维持。成立于2008年的RPX公司声称其提供"防御型专利垒筑"(Defensive Patent Aggregation)服务,并不直接向执业实体进行诉讼威胁,而是独立进行市场调查,购买专利后向全体会员(成员包括IBM、Cisco、LG、Panasonic和HTC等)提供许可,从而降低其专利许可和诉讼成本,后者则提供一定比例的公司运营收入作为会费。一方面,RPX公司的服务方便了作为竞争对手的执业实体之间针对专利资产的收购进行合谋,可能形成专利购买一方的价格控制机制,比如2012年3月,Cascades Computer Innovation就起诉RPX及其部分成员(Samsung, HTC和Motorola公司)进行买方的联合抵制,拒绝与其进行许可谈判,而实际目的是压低其手中专利的价格。另一方面,RPX公司目前并未直接向执业实体进行诉讼威胁,但基于其NPE的特性和在专利运营方面的能力,不能排除其改变动机,转而积极展开权利主张活动的可能性。事实上RPX公司曾被指控与PAE进行过合作,转让其手中专利后保留许可,而由后者发起侵权诉讼。成立于2007年的Allied Security Trust提供的服务与RPX公司类似,由其成员(包括Motorola、RIM、Ericsson、Philips和Intel等)确定购买的专利或专利集合,各成员自主决定是否对目标专利或专利集合进行投资。Justin R. Orr等学者认为AST公司便利了其成员就专利的选择和购买直接达成协议,应考虑对其适用本身违法原则。

(三)滥用市场支配地位

PAE在其专利主张活动中所受的激励和限制不同于执业实体,在其商业模式下利用了不对称的风险,具有更强烈的进行权利主张活动的动机,进而比一般的专利持有人更有可能滥用专利权。尽管不能基于PAEs的主体属性直接认定这类企业拥有市场支配地位,由于这类主体商业模式的特殊性,其拥有特殊的市场竞争能力,特别是PAEs往往持有大量的标准必要专利,因此在个案中,PAEs如果同时也是标准必要专利持有人,其在特定市场中被认定拥有市场支配地位的可能性便很高。在Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Capital One Fin. Corp案中,被告Capital One公司就声称原告高智公司将其专利组成集合,利用2000余个壳公司隐藏相关信息后对相关企业进行劫持,以诉讼相威胁要求高额许可费。KFTC在新指南中也指出,由于不涉及产品的制造和销售活动,PAE相比于一般的专利持有人更具动机和能力在专利许可活动中要求过高的许可费。要求与通常交易行为相比明显不合理的许可费,可能超出了专利合理行权的范围,在相关市场中可能产生限制竞争的效果。KFTC进一步列举了数种在认定许可费是否合理时应当考量的因素,包括专利所涉技术的客观价值、从其他许可人处获取专利时的许可费、被许可人获取类似专利时付出的许可费、许可协议的特征和程度、许可时间以及利用该专利生产产品获利的能力。

PAE从第三方获取SEPs后以与通常交易行为相比不合理的许可费率对外许可,同时违背之前在该专利上的FRAND承诺的行为也引起了官方和学界的担忧。标准必要专利的持有人在该特定标准设置方面具有对该标准使用的控制权,当这个标准构成进入障碍时,该权利持有人可以控制该标准相关的产品和服务市场。如果该权利持有人通过滥用其权利,从事反竞争的行为,如拒绝许可、过高收取许可费或进行歧视性许可等,都有可能扭曲该市场的竞争结构、产生排除、限制竞争效果。当SEPs由执业实体转移到PAE手中时,后者由于无需考虑反诉风险和交叉许可需求,以权利主张活动收益为主要来源,更具动机利用SEPs收取高额许可费用,并利用其在专利运营方面的能力绕过原持有人作出的FRAND承诺。Google公司在2012年在向欧盟委员会提交的一份诉状中就指控Mosaid公司是诺基亚和微软公司成立的壳公司,被后者利用以实现规避之前在专利上的FRAND承诺以及打击Google操作系统的制造商等目的。

值得注意的是,对PAE可能滥用专利权的行为,反垄断执法机构只有在收集充分信息的基础上才有可能认定其具有的反竞争效果。PAE通常有策略地投入成本,设立大量壳公司/附属公司或要求交易对象签订保密协议,在专利交易中隐藏其真实身份,并通过欺骗性方式进行专利主张活动。比如,泄露、隐藏或误导对专利权利实施对象作出回应所必需的重要信息;通过专利权属不明的公司对外寻求专利许可,但拒绝披露专利的详细信息,甚至在并未持有专利、无权主张专利或专利已过期的情形下要求支付许可费或威胁发起专利侵权诉讼。目标企业难以确定PAE手中专利集合的规模及质量,进行有效的许可谈判,并因此负担高额的信息成本和诉讼成本。Colleen V. Chien等学者调查发现由PAE发起的专利诉讼案件中有三分之一在起诉时原告并非涉案专利的持有人。Acacia公司通过其附属公司掌握了超过250项专利集合,高智公司使用了约1276个壳公司进行专利购买和持有,MPHJ公司通过其101个壳公司向美国16465 家中小企业寄送了侵权警告函。对于采取欺骗手段进行权利主张活动的行为,FTC目前主要侧重从保护消费者利益的角度出发,依据《联邦贸易委员会法》第五条予以规制,KFTC在新指南中将其单独列为一种不当行使专利权的行为,加拿大竞争当局则在前文提及的最新指南征求意见稿中指出,这种行为会影响很多企业正常运营以及有效竞争的能力,可能产生竞争方面的问题。

四、结语

PAE的日益活跃在全球引起广泛关注,法学方面的讨论也从知识产权法扩展到包括反垄断法在内的其他法律部门。以美国为代表的部分反垄断司法辖区更是高度重视PAE专利运营活动带来的问题。基于目前的情况,我们可以认识到:

首先,尽管从反垄断法的角度对PAE及其专利运营活动进行的讨论在全球理论与实务界不断升温,但目前各方针对该问题并未得出统一的实质性结论。实际上,即使是PAE这一概念,目前各方也未达成共识。由于PAE的内涵与外延存在一定的模糊性,这一主体甚至难以纳入严格的法律分析框架中去。

其次,从反垄断立法角度看,规则设计仍应坚持行为维度,没必要从主体维度对PAE设置特殊规则。尽管较之其他主体,PAE实施某些排除、限制竞争行为的可能性会更高,但目前尚未发现专属于PAE的新型排除、限制竞争行为,PAE相关问题并未给传统反垄断法分析框架带来实质性挑战。虽然有国家在反垄断规则设计中从主体维度对PAE单独设置条款,但相关条款并没有突破传统反垄断法的规则框架。Joshua D. Wright 以及Douglas H, Ginsburg等人指出,事实上目前没有证据证明PAE导致了新的反垄断问题,由PAE引起的效率减损,应当被合理假设为是由诉讼制度方面的问题所导致的。PAE的商业模式本身并不暗示需要反垄断执法机构偏离标准的分析框架,针对PAE设立新的反垄断标准,传统分析框架足以规制PAE的任何限制竞争的行为并提供充分的救济。

最后,从反垄断执法角度来看,不应区别对待PAE,不同主体在规则适用上应贯彻平等原则。实践中,PAE在经营者集中、垄断协议与滥用市场支配地位等几大类垄断行为方面都有体现,与PAE有关的反垄断案件可能会日渐成为各国反垄断执法中的一个热点。反垄断执法过程中,PAE与其他主体应平等适用反垄断法,执法部门依旧可以在传统的反垄断法分析框架下,基于PAE拥有的特殊能力与动机,结合个案环境去具体评估PAE实施的特定行为所带来的竞争影响。

Footnotes

18作者简介:胡向宏,中国科学院大学公共政策与管理学院硕士研究生;

韩伟,法学博士,中国青年政治学院法学院讲师。

基金项目:本文为2013年国家社科基金青年项目"合并救济中限制性条件的匹配性研究",2011年国家社科基金重大项目"中国云计算知识产权问题与对策研究",2012年国家社科基金重大项目"垄断认定过程中的相关市场边界划分与技术研究"的阶段性成果。

"Non-practicing Entity"较早见于Micron Technology, Inc.专利诉讼与许可部分负责人Joel Poppen在2002年2月28日FTC的听证会上提交的意见。https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/public_events/competition-ip-law-policy-knowledge-based-economy-hearings/020228ftc.pdf.

Federal Trade Commission, Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed Collection; Comment Request, Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 192 / Thursday, October 3, 2013 / Notices, at 61352. https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/federal_register_notices/2013/10/131003paereportsfrn.pdf.

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