This Week’s Techlaw News Round-Up

March 24, 2023

UK law

High Court sets global FRAND royalty rate

The High Court has issued a very long decision in the FRAND (Fair, Reasonable, And Non-Discriminatory) case of InterDigital Technology Corporation & others v Lenovo Group Ltd [2023] EWHC 539 (Pat). The dispute was between Lenovo and InterDigital, a manufacturer of wireless and video communication technology. The dispute arose in the context of licensing terms for Lenovo to use a set of telecoms patents owned by InterDigital that had been declared essential to the operation of the 3G, 4G and 5G standards set out by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (SEPs). Having decided if the patents were essential or infringed, the High Court was asked to decide what terms would be FRAND for Lenovo to license InterDigital’s portfolio of SEPs for standardised 3G, 4G and 5G technology. Mellor J considered comparable licences and said that Lenovo should pay InterDigital royalties of $138.7million (a rate of $0.175 per cellular unit). This was around 40% of the sum InterDigital had originally claimed. The court further said that Lenovo should pay in full for past sales. The court also ruled that none of the licensing deal offers made that Lenovo should pay in full for past sales. The court also ruled that none of the licensing deal offers made by either party were FRAND. However, it said that there was insufficient evidence that Lenovo was an unwilling licensor so InterDigital would not be entitled to an injunction. This is only the second decision of its kind in the UK, as most such cases are settled out of court. The saga will go on as InterDigital has indicated that it will appeal certain aspects of the judgment.

CMA says that tech deal could make computer servers more expensive for UK businesses

Broadcom makes and sells specialist hardware components and VMware specialises in software products and services, including server visualisation software, which enables servers to be used more efficiently by separating them into multiple virtualised servers. VMware’s customers include major banks, telecom firms, UK government departments and other public institutions. The CMA Phase 1 investigation looked at how Broadcom’s deal to buy VMware for $61 billion may affect the supply of these software and hardware products and whether this would then give Broadcom the ability to disadvantage its competitors. The CMA found that VMware has a leading position in server virtualisation software and that compatibility with its software is critical for the server hardware components sold by Broadcom and its rivals. The CMA is concerned that the deal could enable Broadcom to harm its rivals by preventing them from being able to supply VMware-compatible hardware components, such as NICs and storage adapters, reducing competition and ultimately choice for customers. The investigation also found that the merger may result in Broadcom obtaining commercially sensitive information (such as details of new planned products) that its hardware rivals currently supply to VMware. The CMA is concerned that this could damage innovation and leave customers worse off, including fewer product updates or new features. Broadcom has five working days to offer legally binding proposals to the CMA to address the concerns identified. The CMA would then have a further five working days to consider whether this addresses its concerns, or if the case should be referred to the next stage, Phase 2, investigation.

MPs seek evidence on turning quantum technologies into products

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has announced a new inquiry on turning breakthrough in quantum technology into commercial products that can benefit the UK’s society and economy. The government’s national quantum strategy was published alongside the Spring Budget. The unique behaviour of matter and light at atomic and subatomic level can be exploited to create computers that can tackle calculations that would take conventional computers millions of years. Such computers would break current encryption protocols, raising concerns around data security. other applications of quantum mechanics include imaging around corners and in the dark, super precise clocks as well as enhanced communication systems. The inquiry will focus on how the UK’s quantum industry and prospects compare to other nations with strengths in quantum, such as the US and China, as well as the implications for national security. MPs seek evidence on whether the UK government’s 10-year vision and £2.5 billion programme for quantum is fit for purpose, as well as the further support the sector needs to commercialise quantum technologies.

UK government publishes International Technology Strategy

The UK government has published its International Technology Strategy. It says that the UK will be guided by four principles – to be open, responsible, secure and resilient – and will aim to shape the future of technology in a way that promotes its use positively, and drives innovation and UK tech leadership, while boosting the UK’s security from new and emerging threats.

ICO takes action against Lewisham Council for failing to respond to hundreds of Freedom of Information requests

The ICO has issued an enforcement notice to the London Borough of Lewisham Council for failing to respond to hundreds of overdue requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Council revealed the true extent of its poor performance on information access requests to the ICO, which was much worse than statistics it recently published online. At the end of 2022, the Council had a total number of 338 overdue requests for information, 221 of which were over 12 months old. The oldest unanswered request was submitted over two years ago on 3 December 2020. While the Council was focusing on new requests to improve its compliance with the statutory time limit of 20 working days for a response, this was at the expense of tackling its backlog of older requests. Following enquiries by the ICO, it became clear that the Council had no concrete plans to address this issue. The enforcement notice requires the Council to respond to all outstanding requests over 20 working days old, no later than six months from the date of the notice. It is also required to devise and publish an action plan to mitigate any future delays to FOI requests, within 35 days from the date of the notice.

The Alan Turing Institute launches new strategy using data science and AI for social good

The national institute for data science and AI has published a new strategy. The new strategy aims to enable and support researchers to work towards a world where machine learning algorithms could detect early warning signs of disease and help doctors to tailor treatments for individual patients, where we could predict the impacts of climate change and guide our mitigations against them, and where predictive analysis could help governments identify and prevent potential security threats. The strategy also focuses on the impact of digitisation on business, finance, the measurement of the economy and cross-cutting issues of standards, regulation, ethics and impact on policy. These areas are supported by key capability areas including foundational technologies such as digital twins and large language models; the development of tools, practices and systems; and a taskforce of specialists who will help to translate this into commercial and societal impact. The strategy seeks to respond to the dramatic rise in computer power with the release of large language models like ChatGPT. It also aims to address the risks posed by AI technologies when used without transparent processes and good human oversight. As a result, one of the biggest challenges facing researchers is ensuring these technologies are used ethically and for societal good.

Ofcom announces new operating licence for BBC

Ofcom has announced a new operating licence for the BBC. It comes into effect on 1 April 2023. It has been designed to hold the BBC to account on delivering its remit, while enabling it to adapt and innovate in how it delivers content to viewers and listeners, whose habits are dramatically shifting. For the first time, the licence sets comprehensive new requirements on the BBC’s online services – BBC iPlayer, BBC Sounds and the BBC website – which are increasingly important for reaching audiences. At the same time, Ofcom has included safeguards for important content on the BBC’s broadcast TV and radio services, using quotas to ensure the BBC delivers a minimum volume of content such as news and current affairs, and original UK programmes. The updated licence also imposes transparency as a core obligation. This follows concerns about the lack of detail and clarity provided by the BBC around planned changes to its programmes and services. The BBC will have to explain in more detail how it is delivering for audiences. Also, for the first time, it will have to publicly set out its plans before making significant changes to its services.

CAP updates guidance for influencers

CAP and CMA published the first edition of influencer guidance on 28 September 2018 and, following the ASA’s research on ad labelling, published the second edition on 2 February 2020. Considering the learning from various ASA rulings and CMA work in this area, as well feedback from key industry stakeholders, the third edition has now been published. It aims to help ensure that advertising content posted by influencers is clear about what it is. It is written with an influencer’s perspective in mind, but it is also useful for brands and agencies. It is intended to provide the reader with a good understanding of the laws and rules that apply to them and how to make sure they are following those rules for the benefit of their audience and the wider influencer marketing industry. This ‘Influencers guide’ sets out: what the rules are, when content should be disclosed, advice around affiliate marketing, how to make clear ads are ads, visual examples of best practice and what happens and what happens if content is not disclosed.

EU law

European Parliament ready to negotiate with Council for an EU-wide digital wallet

The European Parliament has confirmed the negotiating mandate for talks with the EU member states on the revision of the new eID directive. The scheme would allow citizens to identify and authenticate themselves online (via a European digital identity wallet) without having to resort to commercial providers, as is the case today – a practice that has raised trust, security and privacy concerns. Following plenary’s endorsement, the discussions with the Council on the final form of the legislation may begin immediately. Parliament’s position during the negotiations will be based on the amendments adopted in the Industry, Research and Energy Committee in February. The Council adopted its negotiating mandate in December 2022.