Friday, September 20, 2013

Antitrust And Little Trust For Patents

The Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth, at Northwestern Law, held the Sixth Annual Conference on Antitrust Economics and Competition Policy on September 20, 2013.  Given exploding interest in patent trolls outside academia, it is perhaps unsurprising that some of the livelier presentations analyzed the implications of "patent assertion entities" ("PAE") for antitrust and competition law and policy.  Aviv Nevo, DAAG at the United States Department of Justice, gave the lunchtime keynote address on "Antitrust and IP," Carl Shapiro and Fiona Scott Morton, economics professors at the University of California, Berkeley, and Yale University School of Management, respectively, presented a study entitled "Strategic Patent Acquisitions,"  and William P. Rogerson, professor of economics at Northwestern University, moderated a panel on "Competition Policy and Intellectual Property."  Kind words about patent trolls were rare.  One of the wittiest remarks at the conference was made by Richard J. Gilbert, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, who, in analogizing real and intellectual property, and contrasting the uncertainty of patent rights, said, "A tenant usually knows if she lives in the landlord's building and has to pay rent."  The ease with which this remark sparked enthusiastic laughter in an audience filled with the who's who of antitrust and competition economists, attorneys, and government officials might unsettle patent trolls.