The Antitrust and Intellectual Property Intersection in European Union Law
In European legal scholarship, many articles discuss the equilibrium reached in the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) when the EU antitrust prohibitions apply to, and restrain, the free and ordinary use of intellectual property rights (“IPRs”). We call this the antitrust-IP intersection. The most interesting feature of this literature is perhaps the common assumption that a unifying substantive perspective, vision or theory on IPR underpins the intersection point reached by the antitrust case-law. Whilst the theory of “absolutism” can be quickly disposed of, several other theories like inherency, exceptionalism or complementarity have been described as the lynchpin of the antitrust-IP intersection. Our paper offers a different reading of the case-law. It submits that the antitrust-IP intersection does not rest on any unitary theory which, in turn, bespeaks the Court’s vision of the social function of IPRs. Instead, the main feature of the CJEU case-law is that a specific methodology is applied to antitrust cases with IPR ramifications. The CJEU deals with most of such cases under a rule-based approach, instead of a standard-based approach. By rule-based approach, we refer to the ex ante setting of structured tests of liability, by opposition to ex post case-by-case resolution on grounds of a pre-determined, general standard (e.g., reasonableness, competition on the merits, efficiency, fairness, equity, etc.). As will be seen below, this approach has many virtues, not least in terms of legal certainty. But it also has a major qualification. Whilst the Court has consistently formulated rules of liability and justifiability at the antitrust and IP intersection, it has at the same time often embedded abstract standards within those rules. The implications of this mixed approach are unclear.