The Optimal Scope of the Royalty Base in Patent Licensing

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1 The Optimal Scope of the Royalty Base in Patent Licensing Gerard Llobet CEMFI and CEPR Jorge Padilla Compass Lexecon First draft: March 2014 This version: July 2014 Abstract There is considerable controversy about the relative merits of the apportionment rule (which results in per-unit royalties) and the entire market value rule (which results in ad-valorem royalties) as ways to determine the scope of the royalty base in licensing negotiations and disputes. This paper analyzes the welfare implication of the two rules abstracting from implementation and practicability considerations. We show that ad-valorem royalties tend to lead to lower prices, particularly in the context of successive monopolies. They benefit upstream producers but not necessarily hurt downstream producers. When we endogenize the investment decisions, we show that a sufficient condition for ad-valorem royalties to improve social welfare is that enticing more upstream investment is optimal or when multiple innovators contribute complementary technologies. Our findings contribute to explain why most licensing contracts include royalties based on the value of sales. JEL codes: L15, L24, O31, O34. keywords: Intellectual Property, Standard Setting Organizations, Patent Licensing, R&D Investment. The ideas and opinions in this paper, as well as any errors, are exclusively the authors. Financial support from Qualcomm is gratefully acknowledged. The first author also acknowledges the support of the Spanish Ministry of Economics and Competitivity through grant ECO Comments should be sent to and 1

2 1 Introduction The licensing of a patented technology is one of the most important sources of revenue for many innovators, particularly, when they do not participate in the production in the final market. A licensing contract typically includes a royalty payment that comprises two components: a royalty rate and a royalty base. Most attention in the economic literature has been devoted to the optimal determination of the royalty rate. Much less work has been done in studying the scope of the royalty base. This scope can be determined in two principal ways. One option is the value of the components of the infringing product that incorporate the patented technology. This is the so-called apportionment rule. Alternatively, the scope of the royalty base can be given by the value of the sales of the entire product the entire market value rule. These two rules give raise to the usage of per-unit royalty rates (a constant payment based on the units sold) and ad-valorem royalty rates (a payment comprising a percentage of the value of the sales of the product), respectively. There is wide agreement among practitioners and legal scholars that the entire market value rule is appropriate when the components incorporating the patented technology drive the demand for the product. There is also wide agreement that in a perfect world with rational judges and juries and in the absence of reporting and monitoring frictions, both rules would produce the same payment outcomes even if the components incorporating the patented technology do not drive the demand for the product. 1 The argument is that in a frictionless world the individual elements of a royalty payment are irrelevant in isolation, as one variable [i.e. the royalty rate] can adjust with the other [i.e. the royalty base]. 2 1 As stated by the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Federal Circuit (CAFC) there is nothing inherently wrong with using the market value for the entire product for the infringing component or feature, so long as the multiplier accounts for the proportion of the base represented by the infringing component or feature. Lucent Techs., Inc. v. Gateway, Inc., 580 F. 3d 1301, (Fed. Cir. 2009). 2 See Geradin and Layne-Farrar (2011). 2

3 In contrast, there is considerable controversy about the appropriate rule for the determination of the scope of the royalty base when the components incorporating the patented technology do not drive the demand for the product and there is bounded rationality and/or asymmetries of information. In those circumstances, some scholars support the apportionment rule because they fear that a royalty base that is broader than the value of the components incorporating the technology may mislead judges or juries into granting excessively high royalty payments (Love, 2007). They are concerned therefore that the entire market value rule will over-compensate patent holders. These authors believe that the only way to ensure that royalty payments are proportionate to the contribution of the patented technology to the infringing product is to limit the scope of the royalty base so that it does not include any value attributable to the infringer or third parties. On the other end of the spectrum, those that support the entire market value rule argue that the apportionment rule is too difficult to apply in practice. They claim that the economic value added to a product by a patented component is often greater than the value of the component alone and, hence, the apportionment rule will likely underreward innovation when the component at issue enables other components even if is not the sole driver of demand. They also argue that it is difficult to value the various components that define a product especially when the valuation exercise concerns complex products with multiple interrelated technologies and, hence, that apportionment can be a difficult and subjective task (Sherry and Teece, 1999). The entire market value rule may prove especially apt in the context of portfolio licensing where licensors hold patents covering different components of the infringing product. Finally, those supporting the entire market value rule explain that ad-valorem royalties i.e. royalty payments using the entire market value of the product as base are easier to implement in practice because the value of sales of a product is observable in public documents, whereas per-unit 3

4 royalties require the direct monitoring of the number of units sold (and hence the number of components used). 3 In this paper we do not revisit the debate about the practicality of the base selected to calculate royalty payments. We focus instead on the consensus that in a perfect world with no monitoring frictions or boundedly rational judges and juries the apportionment rule (i.e. per-unit royalties) would yield the same market outcomes than the entire market value rule (i.e. ad-valorem royalties). We show that such a consensus is flawed. We find that in most circumstances, ad-valorem royalties yield market outcomes that are welfare superior to those resulting from the use of per-unit royalties. Or, in other words, we find that even leaving aside implementation issues, the entire market value rule is better for most market participants, and in particular for the consumers of the products embedding the patented technology, than the apportionment rule. In order to compare the welfare implications of the apportionment and entire market value rules, we contribute to the existing literature on licensing contracts. This literature has typically focused on the usage of combinations of fixed fees and per-unit royalties. Surprisingly, very little attention has been paid to ad-valorem royalties. 4 This is a striking fact if we compare it with the existing empirical evidence. In a sample of 278 contracts, Bousquet et al. (1998) shows that while 225 include royalties only in 9 of them these royalties were paid per-unit. We develop a model of innovation and subsequent pricing decisions in order to under- 3 See Geradin and Layne-Farrar (2011). While the apportionment rule links the scope of the royalty base to the value of the components covered by the patented technology, it is easy to demonstrate that royalties determined under that rule are mathematically equivalent to per-unit royalty rates since their effect is to increase the marginal cost of production of the implementer(s). 4 In vertical relationships, papers like Kamien and Tauman (1986) have shown that fixed fees are superior to per-unit royalties even when there are several downstream producers to which the technology can be licensed. Of course, the previous results do not hold when we consider market frictions. Papers like Hernández-Murillo and Llobet (2006) have shown that royalties can be optimal when asymmetric information considerations are included in the model. In contrast, there is an extensive and classical literature comparing ad-valorem versus per-unit taxes (Suits and Musgrave, 1953), leading to insights related to some of the results we discuss here. 4

5 stand the implications of the different kinds of royalties. This model includes a vertical relationship between innovators, upstream players that create an innovation, and producers, downstream players that implement these innovations and develop products for the final market. In this context we show that per-unit and ad-valorem royalties lead to different outcomes and different ways in which profits are split between upstream innovators and downstream producers. These different profits feed back into the incentives for firms to innovate and develop new products. Through the inclusion of a very stylized research and development stage to a model of technology transfer we can also assess the welfare effects on an industry of mandating the use of per-unit or ad-valorem royalties. The main results indicate that ad-valorem royalties often lead to higher social welfare, and this could explain their prevalence in practice. In order to understand this result it is useful to separate the effects of the royalties in the research and development and the pricing stage. We start with the latter. In the main part of the paper we analyze the decision of an upstream monopolist that licenses its technology to a pure downstream player. Abstracting from the incentives to innovate that is, assuming that all innovation and development has been successfully carried out we show that ad-valorem royalties favor the upstream producer whereas the opposite is true for per-unit royalties. Furthermore, the resulting price in the final market is never higher under ad-valorem royalties. The reason is that ad-valorem royalties impose a royalty tax on the downstream mark-up, reducing the profitability of price increases. As a result, they typically make the double-marginalization problem less severe, generating lower distortions in the final market. Only under an isoelastic demand function prices are identical under both licensing schemes. Even in that case, however, ad-valorem royalties lead to lower prices when we allow for an balanced allocation of bargaining power among the two firms. Once we introduce several upstream innovators that provide complementary technolo- 5

6 gies, however, an additional force appears. As it is well known, the interaction of several licensors creates a classical problem of Cournot complements, also known in this context as royalty stacking: by requiring a large royalty, innovators reduce the quantity that the final good producer sells, creating a negative externality on all the rest of the innovators. As a result, prices are higher than those that would emerge from the profit maximizing behavior of an upstream monopolist that holds all technologies. The model shows that the royalty stacking problem is more severe under per-unit royalties that under ad-valorem ones. We introduce the incentives to innovate by assuming that in the first stage of the model both the upstream and downstream firms simultaneously must make an investment in the research and implementation of the technology, respectively. To the extent that success is only possible with the complementary investments of all firms, a typical problem of moral hazard in teams emerges (Holmstrom, 1982). Firms have individually insufficient incentives to invest. Since the choice of the royalty base affects the allocation of profits among the firms operating in different production stages it will also affect innovation and, consequently, social welfare. In the context of an upstream and downstream monopoly, we have that ad-valorem royalties spur higher upstream investment, since they allocate more profits to the firm developing the technology. In the case of the downstream producer the comparison of the profits under ad-valorem and per-unit royalties depends on two opposing forces. On the one hand, ad-valorem royalties benefit the upstream producer, which might lead to lower downstream profits. On the other hand, total surplus under ad-valorem royalties is higher, since they mitigate the double-marginalization problem. When demand is isoelastic and the final price is independent of the royalty base used, the first force dominates, creating a trade-off in the provision of incentives to innovate. Thus, total welfare depends on the allocation of profits that maximizes the probability of success. As a result, 6

7 if the cost of innovation of upstream producers is higher (lower) or the profits from the innovation outside of this vertical relationship are lower (higher), ad-valorem (per-unit) royalties would dominate from a social point of view, as they would globally engender more incentives to innovate. Furthermore, for the reasons stated before, since ad-valorem royalties also induce lower prices, they are more likely to become optimal. When we consider multiple upstream developers with complementary innovations numerical results indicate that ad-valorem royalties typically work better. The reason is that by increasing upstream profits they generate a positive feedback on the incentive to innovate of all parties. In fact, for most parameter values even the incentives to invest of the downstream monopolist are higher under ad-valorem royalties, and so is social welfare. The positive effect due to lower prices is reinforced by the higher investment incentives. More downstream competition makes the effects of ad-valorem and per-unit royalties more similar, since the double-marginalization (and the royalty stacking) problem becomes less severe. As a result, the impact on social welfare of the different rules is less significant and less clear-cut. Nevertheless, we observe that when the marginal cost of production is large total surplus is higher under ad-valorem royalties. It is only in the limit, when all downstream competitors sell an identical product that we find an equivalence between both kinds of contracts. Overall, our results suggest that ad-valorem royalties tend to spur more innovation and lead to lower final prices, which explains their popularity. Very few papers in the literature have studied the trade-off between both types of royalties. Bousquet et al. (1998) compares ad-valorem and per-unit royalties in combination with fixed fees in the case of vertical relationships like the ones we consider here. They show that when there is uncertainty regarding the demand, typical of product innovations, ad-valorem royalties in combination with fixed fees are more effective for risk-sharing. In contrast, in the case 7

8 of cost uncertainty, typical of process innovations, they show that the ranking between the two royalty schemes is far less clear. Other papers have analyzed different trade-offs involving the two royalty bases and, in particular, their implications for raising rival s costs (Salop and Scheffman, 1983), when a vertically integrated firm licenses its technology to downstream competitors. San Martín and Saracho (2010) show that, under Cournot competition, ad-valorem royalties constitute a more effective commitment to soften downstream competition, raising the final price. 5 Another difference with previous works is that here we focus on how the royalty rate feeds back on the incentives for firms to innovate. For this reason, this paper is related to the literature on profit-sharing developed in Bhattacharyya and Lafontaine (1995). Whereas the focus of their work is in the design of ex-ante contracts that minimize the double moral hazard problem, here we assume that the terms of those contracts are agreed upon only after the innovation has taken place and only the type of contract is initially specified. We show that this difference typically makes the usage of fixed fees suboptimal since they exacerbate hold-up distortions. Finally, this paper is also related to the literature that studies the optimal reward for complementary technologies in patent pools or standard-setting organizations. As in our paper, Gilbert and Katz (2011) study the incentives for innovators to carry out R&D to uncover the complementary technologies that are embedded in complex products. Firms choose which technologies to pursue. They show that the optimal payoff from innovation must counterbalance two forces. On the one hand, firms cannot appropriate all the return from the innovation, leading to underinvestment. On the other hand, for each innovation firms engage in a patent race, leading to overinvestment. An important conclusion is that even in the case of perfectly complementary innovations an equal division of surplus 5 Not very surprisingly, Colombo and Filippini (2012) show that the opposite is true when downstream firms compete in prices. 8

9 among innovators is unlikely to be optimal, since it encourages firms to obtain either only one or all innovations. Instead, in this paper we focus on the interaction between upstream innovators and downstream producers. Since we assume that upstream innovators are identical and do not choose which technologies to pursue, equal division among them is optimal in our context. Furthermore, the lack of the patent race component always leads to underinvestment, resulting from the lack of appropriability of all the returns from the innovation. The paper proceeds as follows. Section 2 and 3 discuss the benchmark model that includes an upstream and downstream monopolist and we allow for different allocations of bargaining power. Section 4 and 5 study the case of multiple upstream developers and downstream competitors, respectively. Section 6 concludes discussing policy implications. All proofs are relegated to an appendix. 2 The Benchmark Model Consider the market for a new product. Its development requires the participation of two firms. A technology developer uncovers the basic technology that is required for the product. We denote this firm the upstream producer or U. Development also requires a downstream producer that adapts the technology and creates the final product that can be marketed. We denote this firm the downstream producer or D. We treat the investment decisions of these firms symmetrically. Each firm exerts effort e s, for s = U, D. Efforts are complementary in the development of the final product. In particular, we assume that the upstream technology is successful with probability e U and the downstream producer can adapt it successfully with probability e D, so that the final product can be marketed with probability e U e D. Firms face an increasing and convex cost of effort C(e s ) = 1 2 e2 s, for s = U, D. Research effort may engender technologies that have alternative uses beyond the prod- 9

10 uct considered. These uses lead to profits π U 0 > 0 for the upstream producer if its research effort succeeds and π D 0 > 0 if the final producer succeeds. These profits can originate, for example, from different applications of the technology developed upstream or from spillovers to other products that the downstream producer may already sell. 6 The demand for the final product is D(p). To simplify the analysis we will restrict most of the results to an isoelastic demand function D(p) = p η, with η > 1. This specification also allows us to obtain closed-form solution for the main variables of the model. The upstream developer charges a royalty rate to the final good producer. The downstream producer incurs in a marginal cost of production c and after observing the royalty rate chooses the price in the final market, p. We compare two different bases on which the payment to the upstream developer is established, per-unit and ad-valorem royalties. The first base consists on a constant payment per-unit sold, q = D(p), whereas the second base implies that the downstream firm transfers a share of its gross revenue, pd(p), to the upstream producer. To summarize, the timing of the model is as follows. In the first stage both firms choose simultaneously their level of effort. If effort leads to a successful product, the upstream innovator chooses the royalty rate in the second stage. 7 In the last stage, the final price is set by the downstream producer. Notice that the structure of the model implies that contracts are incomplete. Effort is not ex-ante contractible. Furthermore, although firms may ex-ante agree on the type of contract to be used, the royalty is chosen only after the value of the innovation has been uncovered. 8 6 As we discuss later, differences in these outside profits have effects similar to differences in the cost of effort. In particular, π D 0 > π U 0 will lead to implications equivalent to a lower marginal costs of effort for the downstream producer. 7 In section 3 we show that the results are reinforced if the royalty rate is the result of a negotiation between the upstream and downstream firm. 8 This kind of incompleteness is common in the literature on profit sharing and used in papers like Romano (1994) in the context of retail price maintenance contracts. In standard setting environments, Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) commitments are well-described by this timing. 10

11 In the next subsections we characterize the subgame perfect equilibrium of the game. We start by comparing the equilibrium prices under both royalty bases. We then proceed to study how the incentives to innovate are affected by the royalty base. 2.1 Equilibrium Royalties and Prices The downstream firm maximizes profits that depend on the royalty base used. Under per-unit royalties the firm chooses the monopoly price corresponding to a marginal cost c + r, where r is the per-unit royalty that must be paid to the upstream developer. That is p (r) = arg max p (p c r)d(p). The upstream developer chooses r maximizes licensing revenue, rd(p (r)). Under ad-valorem royalties, the upstream developer retains a proportion s of the total revenue, pd(p). As a result, the downstream producer chooses the price that results from p (s) = arg max [(1 s)p c] D(p). p The upstream developer chooses s to maximize licensing revenue, sp (s)d(p (s)). The first result show that under very weak regularity assumptions over demand advalorem royalties always lead to lower (or equal) prices than per-unit ones. In other words the double-marginalization problem typical of vertical relations like the one assumed in this model is less severe under ad-valorem royalties. Proposition 1. Assume that D(p) is a twice-continuously differentiable demand function with a price elasticity η(p) increasing in p. Then, under successive monopolies, 1. if an ad-valorem royalty and a per-unit one lead to the same final price, the advalorem royalty results in higher upstream profits. 2. The ad-valorem royalty that maximizes upstream profits leads to a lower final price than the per-unit royalty that maximizes upstream profits. 11

12 First notice that the result holds for a large family of demand functions, the isoelastic one being a limiting case. It includes most typical demand functions like the linear demand and, more generally, log-concave demand functions, a class of demand specifications which guarantee that the first-order condition is sufficient. The first part of the proposition shows that for a given final price an ad-valorem royalty allows the upstream innovator to extract a larger share of surplus from the relationship with the downstream producer. Remarkably, this result, although it has never been stated in the context of licensing contracts is a classical result in the public finance literature. Much of the early literature on indirect taxation discussed whether these taxes should be based on the units sold (per-unit) or the value of sales (ad-valorem). In the context of a market monopolist Suits and Musgrave (1953) show that contingent on raising the same revenue, ad-valorem royalties turn out to be less distorting and, therefore, are superior from a social stand-point. An immediate consequence of this result is that upstream profits will always be higher under ad-valorem royalties. The second part of the proposition characterizes the optimal ad-valorem royalty. The proof shows that compared to the situation in which both types of royalty yield the same final price, it is optimal for the upstream innovator to lower the ad-valorem royalty. 9 Of course, given that the equilibrium price is above the monopoly price, ad-valorem royalties not only increase profits for the upstream producer but at the same time increase consumer welfare. The intuition for the previous result is that ad-valorem royalties are closer to fixed fees, which are optimal in this context since they are free from the double-marginalization effect. It is easy to see that if marginal cost were equal to 0, ad-valorem royalties would 9 Gaudin and White (2014) derive a counterpart of this result in the context of taxation and show that the result is robust to other assumptions on downstream competition. 12

13 indeed be equivalent to fixed fees, since the downstream producer maximizes max p (1 s)pd(p), leading to an optimal price p equal to the monopoly price and, thus, independent of the royalty paid. As a result, upstream profits do not entail a social cost when c = 0. As the marginal cost becomes more relevant, however, the difference between the two kinds of royalties becomes less significant. The next example, using a linear demand function, illustrates this intuition. Example 1 (Linear Demand). Consider a linear demand function D(p) = 1 p. Standard algebra implies that under per-unit royalties the equilibrium royalty rate becomes r = 1 c 2, leading to an equilibrium price p pu = 3+c, where pu stands for per-unit royalties. Profits 4 can be computed as Π U,pu = Π D,pu = (1 c)2, 8 (1 c)2. 16 Under ad-valorem royalties the objective function of the upstream developer becomes a fourth-degree polynomial which yields a substantially more complicated expression for the optimal royalty, which can be written as s = ( c 2 c c 2 ) c 2 ( c 2 c c 2 ) 1 3 The equilibrium price corresponds to p av = 1+c s, where av stands for ad-valorem roy- 2(1 s ) alties, and profits can be computed as + 1. Π U,av = s 1 c s 2(1 s ), Π D,av = (1 c s ) 2. 4(1 s ) 13

14 The top three graphs in Figure 1 illustrate numerically the equilibrium prices and profits that arise from the previous expressions. The royalty that the upstream innovator sets must trade-off a large royalty and a small quantity resulting from double-marginalization. Following the intuition discussed above this effect does not exist under ad-valorem royalties when the marginal cost is 0, since in that case they effectively behave like a fixed fee. This fact explains why the price, confirming the result stated in Proposition 1, is lower under this royalty base, and the difference is higher for a low marginal cost. As the marginal cost increases, the double-marginalization effect becomes more relevant under ad-valorem royalties narrowing the gap between the resulting price and the one that emerges under per-unit royalties. The figure also illustrates after-investment profits under both kinds of royalties. The result is, as expected, that upstream profits are higher under ad-valorem royalties where the opposite is true for the downstream producer. However, an important difference between the two kinds of royalties is that under ad-valorem royalties the downstream producer makes profits that are not monotonic in the cost. Using the intuition discussed before about the price, when the marginal cost is low, the upstream producer can charge a high royalty without distorting much the price. As marginal cost increases, however, this royalty must be decreased in order to keep the price low which, for some values, compensates the producer for the higher marginal cost incurred. Example 2 (Isoelastic Demand). Consider an isoelastic demand function D(p) = p η with η > 1. It is easy to show that the optimal per-unit royalty corresponds to r = c. η 1 ( The final price can be computed as p η 2, pu = c η 1) where pu stands for per-unit royalties. Profits become Π U,pu = Π D,pu = (η 1)2η 1 c 1 η, η 2η (η 1)2(η 1) c 1 η, η 2η 1 14

15 c c c Upstream Effort (e U ) Equilibrium Price (p ) Downstream Effort (e D ) Upstream Profits (Π U ) Social Welfare Downstream Profits (Π D ) c c c Figure 1: Equilibrium prices, ex-post profits, effort levels, and social welfare with per-unit (solid line) and ad-valorem (dashed line) royalties for changes in the marginal cost c. Benchmark parameters are π 0 U = π 0 D = 1. 15

16 implying that per-unit royalties allocate a higher share of the total surplus to the downstream producer, Π D,pu > Π U,pu. Under ad-valorem royalties the equilibrium royalty rate and price can be shown to be ( s = 1 and η p η 2, av = c η 1) respectively. Notice that the price is identical under per-unit and ad-valorem royalties, p pu = p av. However, profits are different. In particular, Π U,av = Π D,av = (η 1)2(η 1) c 1 η, η 2η 1 (η 1)2η 1 c 1 η. η 2η Notice that Π U,av = Π D,pu (and obviously Π D,av = Π U,pu ). In contrast to what happens under per-unit royalties, ad-valorem royalties lead to higher profits for the upstream producer. The previous example shows that the isoelastic demand is a corner case of the result in Proposition 1, one in which the prices are identical regardless of the royalty base. This result will become handy in the rest of the paper in which we will maintain the assumption that demand is isoelastic. Assumption 1. Demand is isoelastic, D(p) = p η, with η > 1. This assumption on the one hand provides analytical tractability, allowing us to obtain close form solution for most variables of the model. Furthermore, by leading to the same price under both royalty bases it will allow us to disentangle the effects of Proposition 1 from those that will emerge once innovation incentives are considered or other market structures, including upstream complementary innovations or downstream competition are discussed later in the paper. It also implies that the positive effects of ad-valorem royalties on social welfare will be underestimated once we consider other demand structures. 16

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