FCC Agrees to Hear DTV Patent Comments

The FCC has requested comments on the CUT FATT petition (discussed here) to review DTV patent abuses.

Some articles on the FCC request are here and here, the FCC notice (comments due April 27) is here, and filings will be posted here (select “Search for Filed Comments” on right, proceeding 09-23)

A related petition in front of the FTC filed by the American Antitrust Institute is pending, see here.

A related request for relief is here, a settlement of note is here, a proceeding at the International Trade Commission is discussed here, an antitrust and unfair competition lawsuit by VIZIO against Funai over Thomson patents is discussed here and in more detail here.

But more interesting is to pan back a bit for historical context, with emphasis selectively added.

A 1958 article from from Time magazine:

“In a sweeping civil consent decree in one of the biggest Eisenhower Administration Sherman Act suits to date, RCA agreed to 1) put some 100 color TV patents into a royalty-free pool, 2) make available to all comers on a royalty-free basis at least 12,000 other existing radio-TV patents, 3) license all new patents during ‘the next ten years at a “reasonable” royalty rate.”

Maybe 10 years was too short.  Consider a 1989 article from the Heritage Foundation, “High-Definition Television: What the Federal Government Can Do”:

“While the federal government should not subsidize HDTV and other new technologies, neither should it stand in their way. Yet current antitrust laws do just that. Through complex and ambiguous rules governing cooperation between firms, the antitrust laws constrain the ability of U.S. companies to develop new products.”

How about a delightfully dated assessment on HDTV and US trade policy a decade later (1998):

Notably, Prestowitz cited HDTV as an “example of the widening U.S. lag” in high technology. “There are not even any Americans involved in this struggle,” he lamented in 1988. Again, Prestowitz was dead wrong. American firms leapfrogged their Japanese rivals and produced a more technically advanced version of HDTV using digital technology. In December 1996, the FCC approved an HDTV standard developed by a so-called Grand Alliance of U.S. and European producers; Japan wasn’t even in the running.

Interestingly interspersed is a historical back view to periodic calls for FCC reform:

A 1974 “Modest Proposal to Reform the Federal Communications Commission”:

“the one clear problem that must be faced is agency”… over-identification with the industries related…” and by that term, I mean the powerful, entrenched elements of the industries regulated, in contrast to new emerging facets or technologies. This is not just a symptom to be glossed over:  It is the root cause of dissatisfaction.

Itself citing a tradition of calls for FCC reform, one from 1962:

“…the Commission has drifted, vacillated and stalled in
almost every major area. It seems incapable of policy planning,
of disposing within a reasonable period of time the
business before it…”

So the lingo may be updated but sentiment recognizable in a Newsweek article from December 2008:

Reboot the FCC

In sum:  Calls for reform are easy.  Actionable policy is hard.  The above is an interesting slice of repeating themes, but the question is what to do.  So one must tip a hat to Acting FCC Chairman Michael J. Copps, quoted in February 2009:

“We do too little of our own research and have come to rely too much on the data and studies of others—too often from the very parties trying to drive a particular outcome….Too often we spend our days refereeing disputes between powerful interests, with consumers and other non-traditional stakeholders pretty much left outside the loop of discussion and decision.”