Thursday, February 7, 2013

HTC hits back at Nokia with German patent infringement litigation

On Tuesday it became clear at the Mannheim Regional Court that HTC is under significant pressure to take a royalty-bearing patent license from Nokia. Nokia filed a number of patent suits against HTC in the US and Germany in May 2012. All in all, HTC has to defend itself against 32 Nokia patents. But the Taiwanese multi-platform wireless device maker is trying to get at least some leverage through offensive actions of its own. HTC also countersued Apple in multiple jurisdictions before it ultimately settled. It doesn't have the strongest patent portfolio in the industry -- relative to its sales it's actually quite small --, but HTC still isn't a soft target.

This afternoon the Munich I Regional Court published its hearing list for next week, and it includes a first hearing (the second one, typically held 3-6 months later by this particular panel of judges, will be a trial) on an HTC Corporation v. Nokia Oyj complaint (case no. 7 O 16023/12) that will take place in a week from today. The list also specifies the patent-in-suit: EP2073096 on "power management systems and methods for electronic devices". It's a "homegrown" patent HTC applied for in December 2008, not an acquired one.

This patent does not appear to be standard-essential. Earlier today I blogged about how a company like HTC could capitalize on a shortcoming of the proposed FTC-Google settlement to countersue Nokia over SEPs: HTC alleges, baselessly as far as I can see, that a Nokia patent on reducing power consumption is standard-essential, and under the envisioned consent decree this would enable HTC to bring SEP assertions.

The Munich lawsuit I discovered today is unlikely to be the only offensive HTC v. Nokia countersuit (HTC brought numerous actions in the UK but those are just defensive declaratory-judgment cases, as opposed to claims that Nokia infringes on any HTC patents). Presumably HTC filed more cases in Germany, maybe with the same court or also with other courts. Against Apple, HTC subsidiary S3 Graphics brought six German lawsuits over two patents, suing Apple in one venue and two different resellers in other courts (German courts don't forcibly transfer cases). Also, HTC could still bring counterclaims to Nokia's federal lawsuits in the U.S. (in the District of Delaware).

In the Munich litigation HTC is represented by the law firm of Preu Bohlig & Partner, with whose work I was favorably impressed at the Apple v. HTC hearings and trials I attended last year in Munich and Mannheim. They were really giving Apple a run for the money. Nokia is being defended in this Munich case by Bird & Bird, the firm behind half of Nokia's offensive cases against HTC, ViewSonic and (until the recent settlement) RIM and leading Nokia's defensive effort, for more than five years, against patent monetization entity IPCom. Bird & Bird has recently also had a high-profile declaratory-judgment success in the UK where it represented Microsoft against Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility with respect to the infamous push notifications patent.

Time is of the essence in these disputes, and if Nokia wins a German injunction against HTC over one or more key patents before any of HTC's countersuits come to judgment, HTC's retaliation may turn out to have been "too little, too late". But at least HTC has to try, and that's what it's doing.

If you'd like to be updated on the smartphone patent disputes and other intellectual property matters I cover, please subscribe to my RSS feed (in the right-hand column) and/or follow me on Twitter @FOSSpatents and Google+.

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: