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10/31/2006
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U.S. Government Signs Off On Patent Disclosure Plan

Disclosure of a patent holder's most restrictive licensing terms will increase competition by allowing standards groups to choose among technologies on licensing as well as technical terms, proponents say.

WASHINGTON — U.S. antitrust enforcers have signed off on a proposal by an computer industry standards group to disclose and license patents.

The Justice Department and the VMEbus International Trade Association (VTIA, Scottsdale, Ariz.) said the proposal would strengthen the group's ability to set viable standards that would benefit consumers and promote competition.

In a statement Monday (Oct. 30), the Justice Department's Antitrust Division said VTIA's patent proposal would enable it "to make better informed decisions and thereby formulate standards that will benefit consumers."

VITA requested legal guidance, known as a business review letter, from DoJ on its proposal. In the letter, Thomas Barnett, head of the Antitrust Division, said VITA's proposed licensing policy "should preserve, not restrict, competition among patent holders." Disclosure of a patent holder's most restrictive licensing terms will increase competition by enabling standards groups to choose among technologies on licensing as well as technical terms, Barnett added.

In a statement, Ray Alderman, executive director of VITA, said: "This has been an effort for reform that is long overdue in the world of technology-specification development."

VITA's standards arm develops industry specs for the VMEbus computer architecture.

Standards groups have become increasingly concerned about their deliberations in the aftermath of the government's antitrust case against intellectual property provider Rambus Inc. The Rambus case focused on requirements for disclosing memory technology patents during standard debates. One concern is that patent holders will try to "game" the standards process to gain competitive advantage.

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