Friday, December 13, 2019

BREAKING: Continental makes Nokia binding patent licensing offer ahead of EU antitrust mediation with Daimler, other suppliers


FOSS Patents has found out from unnamed but reliable sources that, just this week, German automotive supplier Continental has made a legally binding offer to Nokia for taking a license to its cellular standard-essential patent (SEP) portfolio. The offer forces the Finnish former mobile device maker to come clean on whether it genuinely intends to address and alleviate the competition concerns raised under EU antitrust law (Art. 102 TFEU) by Daimler and four of its suppliers (Continental, Valeo, Gemalto, BURY Technologies).

Nokia announced yesterday that Daimler and its tier 1 (= direct) suppliers agreed to mediation, which theoretically could put the highest-profile EU antitrust matter pending at the moment to rest. EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, usually not one to shy away from decisive action, is oddly going to hold off until the outcome of the mediation effort will be reported to the European Commission's Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) by mid-February.

Under Continental's offer, if and when accepted by Nokia,

  • Nokia would receive a per-unit patent royalty. Nokia would be free to choose between

    • accepting the (unknown) amount offered by Continental or

    • demanding more money, in which event a court of law would have to resolve this purely quantitative (as opposed to structural) dispute by setting a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) rate.

  • Continental would receive a component-level SEP license, which would be exhaustive (i.e., the downstream, such as Daimler, would fully benefit in terms of being licensed with respect to the implementation (= use) of the covered patents by Continental's telematics control units (TCUs). The proposed structure would also provide Continental with the operational freedom necessary to safeguard a functioning, competitive market for TCUs and the freedom of movement of goods (famously, one of the "Four Freedoms" of the bloc's Single Market).

Hypothetically, if Nokia offered the same deal structure to the other suppliers among the complainants, or if Nokia accepted offers of the same nature from other suppliers, the EU antitrust row would be resolved. Daimler, Continental, Valeo, Gemalto, and BURY Technologies could all withdraw their complaints, and Nokia's ten pending patent infringement cases in Germany against Daimler would be instantly mooted with respect to Daimler cars that don't come with cellular connectivity components from other suppliers. The aforementioned companies, and Nokia, could all mind their respective businesses again.

Should Nokia reject the proposed structure without simultaneously proposing a reasonably acceptable alternative capable of enabling competition and free movement of goods, its mediation offer would be exposed as a transparent attempt at stalling. While they probably won't listen to me, I would recommend to Daimler's suppliers to walk out in that scenario. Every second spent at the mediation table would be a waste of time.

As far as Daimler is concerned, the question is not whether they should walk out. It's why they participate in mediation in the first place. The dispute is not about whether Daimler can get a license. They can. Even Nokia doesn't dispute that. It's the suppliers, stupid.

Yesterday, Nokia won two court decisions unrelated to the merits of Continental's request for a license: Continental's U.S. FRAND/ antitrust case, which likewise aims to secure an exhaustive component-level license on FRAND terms, will be transferred from the Northern District of California to the Northern District of Texas, and Continental's ability to obtain a U.S. antisuit injunction against Nokia's German patent lawsuits against Daimler will be severely restricted to say the least, as the Munich appeals court affirmed an anti-antisuit injunction.

But neither a venue transfer nor an anti-antisuit injunction (no matter how spectacular the latter actually is) have the potential to answer the underlying question of access to component-level licenses. Earlier this decade, when some SEP holders abusively sought and enforced injunctive relief over SEPs, they argued that unwilling licensees were engaging in "holdout." Now there is a totally willing licensee--Continental--who has made every effort, up to the point of bringing a U.S. antitrust lawsuit, lodging an EU complaint, and now making Nokia an offer even though it's a SEP holder's obligation to make a first offer when requested. And there's a company that now risks being fined for an EU antitrust violation by being an unwilling licensor, unless Nokia departs from its prior refusal to grant the type of license requested.

The mediation effort will be farcical if Nokia continues to offer only insufficient (from a competition perspective) types of arrangements, such as "have made" rights that come down to extending a true license only to the car maker while hobbling component makers (who under such structure could not simply sell their components to any customer of their choosing).

Before mediation has even begun (the parties have just agreed to it), Nokia is already cornered. This week's offer is the best decision I've seen from Continental in this context to date. I've criticized some of their moves, I've disagreed with some of their arguments (in the U.S. litigation), but this is brilliant, provided that the European Commission is determined to protect innovation and competition.

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Nokia's winning streak continues: Munich Higher Regional Court surprisingly affirms anti-antisuit injunction

A few hours after Judge Lucy H. Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted Avanci, Nokia et al.'s motion to transfer Continental's U.S. FRAND/antitrust lawsuit to the Northern District of Texas, the Oberlandesgericht München (Munich Higher Regional Court) surprisingly affirmed the Munich I Regional Court's Nokia v. Continental anti-antisuit injunction. At the hearing held four weeks ago, the court actually indicated an inclination to reverse.

The reasons for the decision are unknown. Maybe Nokia's modified wording of the injunction played a role.

After the U.S. venue transfer decision, it would have been difficult at any rate to obtain in the very short term a U.S. antisuit injunction against the Nokia v. Daimler (as well as Sharp v. Daimler and Conversant v. Daimler) patent infringement cases pending in Germany. But it might still have happened just in time before Nokia will secure its first German SEP injunction. Now, with the German anti-antisuit injunction in place, a new U.S. antisuit motion would have to have a narrower scope.

All appeals have been exhausted as far as the preliminary injunction is concerned. Conti could insist on clarification of the same matter in a regular proceeding, which would take a while, but then a further appeal would be possible (either if permitted by the court of second instance, or by bringing the equivalent of a U.S. cert petition). The question of whether German courts can order anti-antisuit injunctions--while arguing that antisuit injunctions are unavailable under German law--requires clarification at the highest level.

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Avanci, Nokia win transfer of Continental's FRAND/antitrust case from San Jose to Dallas

The Avanci patent pool firm and its co-defendants--most notably, Nokia--never wanted Judge Lucy H. Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, famous for (among other high-profile cases) FTC v. Qualcomm, to adjudicate Continental Automotive Systems' FRAND/antitrust complaint. The first challenge they brought related to intra-district assignment. The N.D. of Cal. has multiple divisions, the two most important ones of which are San Jose (Judge Koh's location) and San Francisco. Avanci and Nokia (as well as some other, less significant defendants) asked for the case to be handled in San Francisco rather than San Jose, but that request was declined, and subsequently the case was assigned to Judge Koh.

The difference between San Jose and San Francisco is a one-hour drive under perfect conditions, though it's taken me up to four hours.

The defendants brought a motion to transfer venue in the summer--which has just been granted. They argued that the Northern District of Texas, where some Avanci U.S. entities are based, was the more convenient forum. In late August, Continental filed a very thoroughly-researched opposition brief. I thought it was great, and didn't expect a venue change. My predictions have a very high hit rate, but there were two weaknesses here that Judge Koh identified and one of which I couldn't have seen at the time while the other wasn't easy to spot:

  • After that opposition brief that appeared strong, Continental filed its initial witness disclosures, and various players whose location would have favored the Northern District of California didn't appear on that list. Judge Koh did the only right thing to do, which was to ignore in the convenience context any witnesses Conti didn't even have on its list anymore. For example, Conti had pointed to the location of Apple witnesses, but ultimately named none.

  • What has been a structural problem all along (especially in the antisuit context) is Conti's extremely compex corporate structure. In an amicus curiae brief recently filed with the Ninth Circuit in FTC v. Qualcomm, Conti explained how Michigan-based Continental Automotive Systems relates to the German group parent, and it's like a great-great-grandchild. When arguing its close connection to the Northern District of California, Conti discussed some operations there, but those are different corporate entities. Once again, the question is whether Conti's decision to have only Continental Automotive Systems (and not some other Conti entities as well, starting with the German group parent) sue Avanci and some Avanci members was a good one. It unnecessarily complicates any antisuit motion, and now it has also adversely impacted the opposition to Avanci and Nokia's venue transfer motion.

All things considered, Judge Koh found that the Northern District of Texas was the more convenient forum, especially for non-party witnesses (whose logistics are more relevant in this context than those of party witnesses, and where counsel is based doesn't matter). Also, the interest of a given district in resolving a case is generally highest where the alleged actions occurred, and that's Avanci's location in this case. Conti had pointed to Silicon Valley's stroing interest in SEP licenses for IoT businsses, and named various companies, but that was too thin for Judge Koh's taste. She might have afforded that argument some weight, but it would have had to be underpinned with some hard evidence, given that the issue is a global one as Conti itself had written at some point.

What's more important now than the basis on which Judge Koh exercised her discretion is what this means for the wider dispute:

  • Texas is in the Fifth Circuit, and SEP antitrust law there isn't favorable, but that's irrelevant to the extent that Conti makes arguments under contract law.

  • The Fifth Circuit isn't bad for Conti with respect to a possibly renewed motion for an antisuit injunction. I believe the Munich appeals court will overturn Nokia's German anti-antisuit injunction in a few hours, so Conti will then be free to try again. Generally, the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits--and some also say the First Circuit--are considered to be the most permissive circuits in the antisuit context. The Ninth would be preferable over the Fifth, but again, the Fifth isn't considered exceedingly restrictive.

  • The bigger problem Conti faces with respect to an antisuit motion is that it will take some time before the new court is up to speed on the case and in a position to adjudge that kind of motion.

  • While the Ninth Circuit's decision in FTC v. Qualcomm (the hearing will be held in February) isn't formally binding on a court in the Fifth Circuit, there will be some persuasive impact.

  • Judge Koh didn't stay anything, so it's possible that even in Dallas a trial could take place in (late) 2021 (Judge Koh had scheduled it for October 2021).

  • Nokia, which is suing Daimler over 10 SEPs in Germany, pretended to be constructive, though the only two outcomes of mediation by the International Chamber of Commerce as Daimler's surrender (which wouldn't help Conti and other suppliers) or simply no deal. But the European Commission won't launch formal investigations into Nokia's refusal to license component makers (though those components come with all the same hardware as phones, which Nokia does license, apart from a screen) in the meantime. And the Mannheim court postponed this week's trial to March, making it a possibility that the Munich I Regional Court will enter an injunction against Daimler before the Mannheim court might have taken a more favorable position on component-level licensing. So there have recently been setbacks for Conti on three fronts where it could have inched closer to an exhaustive component-level license: its EU antitrust complaint; its U.S. contract and antitrust case; and Mannheim (though that case was obviously brought by Nokia, it represented an opportunity for Conti).

  • Here's what I would advise Conti to do in light of the current landscape and recent--not final but nevertheless hurtful--blows: Conti either has to push far harder and smarter (they have great lawyers in Germany, but the problems they face are 100% political, 0% legal) for getting Nokia investigated by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) or if they don't want or don't know how to do that (Nokia certainly does play the game holistically, but Daimler and Conti are employing 19th-century methods against an agile, clever, no-holds-barred rival in the 21st century), they should bring a Dusseldorf lawsuit against Nokia as Huawei did. At this point they might even still get a Dusseldorf case merged for case management purposes (though technically retaining a separate case number) with Huawei's case.

Finally, here's Judge Koh's order, which is the end of the California road for this case:

19-12-11 Order Granting Ava... by Florian Mueller on Scribd

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Commissioner Vestager makes competition-chilling remarks on automotive complaints against Nokia at Chillin'Competition conference

"Chillin'Competition" is a nice wordplay for a conference title. To my dismay, that event provided the setting for competition-chilling utterances by EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. "Competition-chilling" in the sense of doing nothing to promote fair and vibrant competition--and free movement of goods, one of the bloc's key objectives--with respect to automotive components that come with cellular connectivity. The best way to promote competition in that field is to ensure the makers of those components receive exhaustive component-level licenses on FRAND terms. Commissioner Vestager made herself a name as being supposedly tougher than even the legendary "Steely Neelie," but with respect to standard-essential patents (SEPs), her predecessor Joaquín Almunia used to take swifter and more decisive action.

Daimler's antitrust complaint was filed more than a year ago. Then, a few months later, four suppliers (Continental, Valeo, Gemalto, and BURY Technologies) lodged their complaints. There's no justification whatsoever for not bringing the antitrust hammer down now.

Khushita Vasant, a Brussels-based reporter for the Policy & Regulatory Report (PaRR), was first to break the news on Nokia's mediation offer to Daimler and its Tier 1 (= direct) suppliers, and also first to report on Monday that Mrs. Vestager told reporters after the aforementioned conference that "it would be a good thing if there was mutual understanding [between Nokia and the automotive complainants]." The Commission expects an update "by mid-February," writes PaRR.

This means another two months will be wasted. With the greatest respect for the Internaational Chamber of Commerce, this matter here doesn't lend itself to mediation, and there are only two possible outcomes:

  • Daimler surrenders. Or:

  • No deal.

The binary question is: do the component makers get an exhaustive license on FRAND terms? If so, they'd also be free, for an example, to sell excess quantities openly on the market to anybody. That's what is called a free market. The EC knows that.

The monetary terms are, of course, non-binary. If Nokia sought a license fee that wouldn't enable those component makers to stay in this business, it wouldn't help. But the very first step must be for Nokia to stop disputing the component makers' entitlement to a license.

Huawei is suing Nokia in a German court with only the objective of finally getting a component-level licensing offer. No one should ever have had to bring such a complaint, or to ask the European Commission to investigate. Nokia's refusal is downright irrational as it never disputed a phone maker's entitlement to a SEP license, and Huawei's connectivity modules come with all the same types of hardware components as a phone, apart from the screen. The telematics control units (TCUs) made by the likes of Continental incorporate such network access devices (NADs) and come with even more hardware. There's nothing in the claims of those standard-essential patents that a mobile phone has and a NAD or TCU doesn't. I've seen many SEPs, possibly more than anyone involved with the EU investigation, and I have yet to see a cellular SEP that claims a screen.

Daimler and its suppliers should have made Nokia's commitment to an exhaustive component-level license on FRAND terms a precondition for even sitting down and talking. Then, once Nokia has made that commitment, one can talk about FRAND royalty amounts. Those amounts are amenable to negotiation, mediation (where no one is forced to agree), determination by a court of law, or arbitration--the latter, however, provided that the parameters are properly defined, including the right to dispute essentiality and validity, and if there are safeguards against the SEP holder going into arbitration (the results of which tend to gravitate toward the middle) making out-of-this-world demands.

This maneuver helped Nokia in two ways:

There is no indication of Huawei being a party to the mediation talks (at least I couldn't find any in the media), so at least that Dusseldorf antitrust lawsuit against Nokia is going forward.

A leading German patent litigator, who is mostly on the enforcing (not defending) side and is not involved with the Nokia cases in any way, told me he's convinced Nokia can't win. He said this was going to be their "Vietnam." While I'm glad to see Daimler taking a stand against Nokia's conduct, and also hope that all that Nokia is going to get out of this is some hefty legal bills, Daimler and its suppliers must not let their guard down.

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Nokia v. Daimler Mannheim trial postponed from tomorrow to March 2020: rare case in which postponement is bad for defendant

Tomorrow's Mannheim patent trial between Nokia and Daimler, with many suppliers intervening, has been postponed to March 17, 2020, as Judge Dr. Joachim Bock, the court's spokesman, confirmed to me today.

In most cases, pushing back a trial date is in the defendant's interest. What's obviously a different situation is when the "defendant" is actually a declaratory-judgment plaintiff and seeks to get a ruling in one jurisdiction in time to influence a decision in another (such as UK complaints designed to get German cases stayed). But this is the very first time in my observation for a postponement of a German patent infringement case to benefit the plaintiff, not the defendant.

[Update] Here's a statement from Nokia: "We continue to believe that constructive negotiation is the best way to resolve licensing disputes, and have offered independent mediation to Daimler and its tier 1 suppliers to that end. To ensure there is time for this mediation to be successful, we have unilaterally chosen to postpone the pending hearing on 10 December in Germany. We trust that Daimler and its tier 1 suppliers will now engage in these meaningful efforts to reach settlement. There is more to gain for all if we work together." [/Update]

As I'll explain further below, and in fact already explained last week, the question of whether or not Daimler's suppliers are entitled to an exhaustive component-level license on FRAND terms is not amenable to mediation.

I've seen a number of situations in which one party wanted the Mannheim court to stay a case--or postpone a ruling after a trial--but the court kept its schedule unless both parties stipulated to it. One case I remember particularly well involved Nokia and ViewSonic, with the latter saying that settlement talks were at an advanced stage (which is more than Nokia can say), so a ruling wasn't urgent. But Nokia disagreed, and the court handed down a decision.

Should anyone have recommended to Daimler to consent to a postponement of the Mannheim case in exchange for Nokia's zero-credibility settlement efforts, that firm would have given the German automotive company disastrously bad advice.

As I explained in the post I just linked to (on Nokia pretending to be prepared to settle), the Mannheim cases are actually an opportunity for Daimler and its suppliers to obtain positive clarification on the obligation to license component makers. It's a given that Dusseldorf will do so, but things take very long up there. It's also well-known by now that the Munich court, which incessantly cranks out injunctions (most recently against Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram subsidiaries), is so far not really interested in Daimler's suppliers' complaint that Nokia owes them a license. But Mannheim could send out a clear signal by siding with the Dusseldorf stance on upstream licenses, and that would make Munich an outlier (and possibly leads Munich to reconsider, or at least would bear weight with the Munich appeals court).

There was no good reason not to hold tomorrow's trial from the defendants and, especially, the intervenors' perspective. The parties could still have negotiated, which isn't going to lead anywhere unless Daimler surrenders. Nokia is not going to offer an exhaustive component-level license. If they wanted, they could do so anytime. You don't need to talk to the press (Reuters, for instance). You can just make a commitment. Any day of the week.

There is no news of Nokia having met Huawei's demand in an antitrust case pending in the Dusseldorf court: Huawei wants to enforce Nokia's obligation to make a licensing offer on FRAND terms.

Daimler's EU antitrust complaint against Nokia is more than one year old. The EU's automotive industry employs roughly 14 million people. Nokia's (and Ericsson's) refusal to license component makers is in clear violation of CJEU case law (Huawei v. ZTE, where the EU's top court stated clearly that everyone is entitled to a SEP license). It's a mystery why the European Commission still isn't formally investigating. Granted, they had some delays with the appointment of the new Commission, but even in a state of interregnum, the Commission's competition enforcement made progress in other areas.

According to Reuters's Foo Yun Chee, quoting an unnamed source, the Commission "indicated in October it could launch a probe." In order to avoid this, Nokia apparently decided to wave a fake white flag. They want to lay the foundation for finger-pointing at Daimler, claiming that Nokia wanted to settle but Daimler and its suppliers weren't constructive.

That game gets played all the time. But there's a right way and a wrong way to play it. The right way in a situation like this is to fully expose the other party's disingenuity as opposed to readily falling--even jumping--in a trap.

If Nokia indicated even over the media that they wanted to talk, Daimler could have said: "Let's talk." But Daimler should have insisted that the sequence of decisions in Germany would remain intact: Mannheim first, Munich second. (There's nothing anybody can do about Dusseldorf being much slower.)

I've seen a number of exchanges between parties' counsel in such situations. Such letters and emails often get attached to U.S. court filings. Microsoft played it very smart against Motorola. They responded in a way that ultimately forced Motorola to drop its mask. Microsoft never made a concession unless it was a great deal. Here, I can't see the great deal. It's a mistake to make it more likely, or even near-certain, that Munich will rule ahead of Mannheim.

The parties could have let the trial go forward, but could have asked the court not to rule unusually quickly. Judge Dr. Holger Kircher, the presiding judge of the Second Civil Chamber of the Mannheim Regional Court, is always in charge and doesn't allow his court to be used as a tool. But the parties could have asked him not to rule before, say, late January. That would have been the realistic time frame anyway (in light of the Holiday Season hiatus).

It's not in Daimler's interest to give the European Commission an excuse for not taking action for yet another month or more.

For an example, Daimler could have told Nokia that they're happy to talk, but there's a precondition: Nokia must recognize in writing the suppliers' entitlement to an exhaustive SEP license on FRAND terms. There's nothing to negotiate, arbitrate, or mediate about that one: it's a binary question.

Again, for an industry that employs almost three times as many people in Europe as Nokia's home country has inhabitants, or about as many as Finland (Nokia) and Sweden (Ericsson) combined, it shouldn't be hard to get such a set of legally and economically strong complaints investigated. They just relied on the wrong people, and maybe they hoped that some would be more helpful than they ultimately were, but in that case one has to keep searching for allies until there is momentum. By the way, I believe I haven't even read a single article on Daimler's EU complaint apart from this one on IT-specialized news website If they don't even know how to draw attention to this in Germany, how can they expect swift and decisive action in Brussels?

The fact that the European Commission is dragging its feet isn't a reason to delay resolution of some important FRAND questions (especially access to licenses) in court. Much to the contrary, if the regulators don't help you, the courts are your only chance to solve the problem. Right now the only company that is pursuing a promising and convincing strategy against Nokia is Huawei with its Dusseldorf FRAND lawsuit.

If the automotive industry can't bring its economic weight to bear, it has no one to blame but itself.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Korea Fair Trade Commission defeats Qualcomm's antitrust appeal in court, but Qualcomm will appeal--and violate--further

As Reuters and other media outlets reported, the Seoul High Court upheld the record $873 million fine the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) had imposed on Qualcomm. The issues in the South Korean antitrust case are very similar to the ones in the U.S. FTC v. Qualcomm case, and the most important overlap concerns the obligation to extend exhaustive SEP licenses, on FRAND terms, to rival chipset makers.

For the South Korean competition authority, this is a major legal victory. Qualcomm has announced its intent to appeal this matter further to the Supreme Court of South Korea. But that appeal will take roughly half a decade to be resolved.

Qualcomm's problem is not to cough up the (almost) billion-dollar fine. Korea--with Samsung and LG being based there--is a strategically important market. What hurts Qualcomm much more in the short term is that this Korean decision may also serve to demonstrate to the Ninth Circuit that the U.S. FTC and Judge Lucy H. Koh reached decisions that are simply in the global antitrust mainstream. I guess the U.S. FTC will file a request for judicial notice soon--and, by the way, I believe the companies who lodged EU antitrust complaints against Nokia (Daimler, Continental, Valeo, Gemalto, BURY Technologies) should also try to leverage the Korean decision in Brussels.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear FTC v. Qualcomm on February 13, 2020. In the post I just linked to, I listed my posts on most of the amicus curiae briefs filed in support of the FTC, and subsequently I also blogged about an automotive-industry brief.

Competition enforcement is not meant to serve a revenue-generation purpose. Fines are meant to deter anticompetitive behavior. So the real measure here is what the KFTC is going to do now. If they continue to refrain from actually enforcing the corrective order requiring Qualcomm to license rival chipset makers, with pressure from the U.S. government being considered the primary reason for this failure to enforce, then they're not going to restore fair competition. Qualcomm will then just continue to refuse to license its rivals, and nothing will change in the marketplace.

A Korean source tells me that the Korean public may be too focused on the fine as a major victory for the government while failing to see the importance of actually enforcing the corrective order. And the large companies who originally complained to the KFTC have settled with Qualcomm in the meantime (or, as in Intel's case, have exited the market). Huawei and MediaTek could have complained, but Korean observers believe they aren't interested in that particular jurisdiction to the extent they'd take action there. So, all in all, the KFTC may be reluctant to allocate the resources to an enforcement effort that would be required.

Realistically, I wouldn't expect a Korean enforcement action to begin in the months ahead. However, I'm a bit more optimistic that something might happen in case the Ninth Circuit affirms Judge Koh's decision on chipset-level licensing (even if on the right-for-the-wrong-reasons basis espoused by the FTC and various amici). In that case, the U.S. government would be in a fundamentally weaker position to tell Korea not to enforce a decision upheld not only by a Korean court but also ordered by one U.S. court and affirmed by one of the most important courts of appeal.

Theoretically, Korean antitrust enforcement should be independent--and effective. But in practical terms, it appears that U.S. influence over this is strong, unless some modem chip makers complain actively and vocally in Korea over Qualcomm's continued non-compliance with the KFTC's corrective order.

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Super Mario company paved the way for BMW and Daimler's invalidity defense against a Broadcom patent

There was a time when a video game console manufacturer like Nintendo and car makers like BMW and Daimler were technologically so far apart that one could hardly have imagined the same patent would get asserted against those three organizations. But times have changed, and a patent on programmable texture processing (a computer graphics patent) can now be alleged--whether with or without merit--to read on game consoles as well as car navigation systems (or other computing technology incorporated into a modern automobile).

There also was a time when Broadcom was more interested in making products than asserting patents, and often filed pretty good amicus curiae briefs advocating reasonableness in patent enforcement (particularly, but not only, with respect to standard-essential patents). That, too, has changed.

Time is ticking away for some very old Broadcom patents on the verge of expiry. Last year, however, Broadcom forced the Volkswagen group into a billion-dollar settlement, exploiting the sad state of affairs of German patent law, where injunctions are granted--mnst of the time over patents that would later be held invalid--without an eBay v. MercExchange-like proportionality analysis. One of Europe's best patent judges believes Germany is in breach of EU law for that reason, and at a conference I recently organized in Brussels, a lawyer said the European Commission could, if it wanted, fine Germany for infringement of an EU directive.

The latest insanity--Germany-wide patent injunctions obtained by BlackBerry against Facebook and its WhatsApp and Instagram subsidiaries over four different (most likely invalid) software patents--shows that this situation is unsustainable, and I'm confident that change will come. Germany's patent infringement judges unanimously oppose reform, but they're not going to be the ones to decide. At the most, they can influence the unelected officials at the ministry of justice, but the German legislature will make the actual decision and is going to be a million times more interested in strengthening the German economy and protecting German jobs and consumers than in attracting lots of patent troll litigation to the country. There won't be a single party in the German parliament that would support the status quo. The judges are going to lose this battle.

Getting back to Broadcom's efforts to shake down the German automotive industry, it doesn't look like what worked against Volkswagen is too likely to work out the same way against BMW and Daimler--partly because time is not on Broadcom's side, and partly because Broadcom faces more resistance this time around.

Before Broadcom sued BMW and Daimler over EP1177531 on a "method and system for providing programmable texture processing," they also asserted that patent against Nintendo. The company known for video game consolers and for iconic game franchises like Super Mario and Pokémon was alleged to infringe that patent. But Nvidia then brought a nullity action (a complaint seeking invalidation of the patent by the Federal Patent Court of Germany), and Nintendo's lawyers from the Bardehle Pagenberg firm (which often defends BMW as well) convinced the Mannheim Regional Court that the patent was likely going to be annulled because an Nvidia chip sold before the patent's priority date already came with the technique the patent purports to cover.

Of Germany's leading patent infringement venues, the Mannheim Regional Court is by far and away the most responsible one when it comes to staying infringement actions over likely-invalid patents. Daimler will defend itself against a Nokia SEP case in Mannheim on Tuesday (December 10) as the court just confirmed to me on Friday.

Broadcom filed an interlocutory appeal against the order to stay the Nintendo case, and it remains to be seen what the appeals court--the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court, where Judge Andreas Voss ("Voß" in German) presides over the patent-specialized division--will decide. The Mannheim court stayed the cases against BMW and Daimler for the same reason as in the Nintendo case, but reminded the parties in its order to stay the case against Nintendo and the pending interlocutory appeal.

A Broadcom subsidiary named Avago has meanwhile lodged some patent infringement complaints against BMW and Daimler. Daimler will have until January 22, 2020 for its answer to the complaint. But the patent is set to expire a few months later. So Broadcom/Avago may never actually get to enforce an injunction. The timeline in the case against BMW remains to be seen. Avago interestingly brought a lawsuit against BMW in Hamburg, a venue in which I have so far not watched a single patent infringement case. While patent infringement suits can be brought in any federal district in the United States, Germany designates specific courts, and almost all patent cases are filed in Dusseldorf, Mannheim, and Munich. It's not unheard of for someone to file in Hamburg (or Frankfurt, Berlin, or Nuremberg), but it's highly unusual.

I asked BMW for further information on those cases, and after telling me they referred my inquiry to the spokesperson in charge of this topic, I never heard back. Daimler declined to provide any information other than expressing the view that the complaint is meritless. So I had to tape some other sources.

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