Friday, March 8, 2013

German court dismisses two Nokia patent lawsuits against HTC, one of them over Google Play

This morning the Mannheim Regional Court announced decisions relating to three smartphone patent cases: two Nokia v. HTC lawsuits and one Samsung v. Apple case (I'll blog about that one in the subsequent post).

The panel of patent-savvy judges over which Judge Andreas Voss ("Voß" in German) presides made final rulings against two Nokia cases. Both cases were dismissed because the court was not convinced of Nokia's infringement allegations. Nokia is probably going to appeal these decisions to the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court, and it's going to carry on with at least 29 other patents it's asserting against HTC until the Taiwanese company takes a license to some of Nokia's non-standard-essential patents (it already has an SEP license). In the two dismissed complaints, Nokia asserted

  • EP0812120 on a "method for using services offered by a telecommunication network, a telecommunication system and a terminal for it" against HTC's distribution of the Google Play app and content store client app, which is a mandatory component of licensed Android devices (Google Play was formerly known as the "Android Market"), and

  • EP1312974 on an "electronic display device and lighting control method of same" against the light guide that enables the light sensors of certain HTC devices to measures the brightness of the environment (in turn enabling the devices to adjust the brightness of their screens accordingly).

Based on how the trials went, the Google Play case was hard to predict, but in the light guide case HTC was very much on the defensive most of the time. HTC said that the light guide patent could have caused serious harm to its German business and demanded, for the event that Nokia would have won an injunction, a bond of 100 million euros (approximately $130 million). But the court ultimately agreed with HTC that a non-colored part of the protective display window does not meet the "light guide" claim limitatio. HTC had argued that a hole is not a guide and that it does not change the angle in which ambient light hits the sensor. I thought Nokia made some good points based on the specification of the patent, but reasonable people can disagree on this question.

The same can also be said about the Google Play case: one could reasonably side with either HTC, as the court did, or with Nokia. Today's related ruling is a nice birthday present for Google Play, which just celebrated its first birthday with promotional offers. Google participated in the proceedings as a third-party intervenor and prevailed for now, but its defenses hinged on a claim construction question that Nokia may get reversed on appeal and which affects several Nokia patents-in-suit: certain Nokia patents from the 1990s cover wireless services and make references to telecommuncations infrastructure, which the courts in Mannheim and Munich generally appear inclined to consider distinct from mobile Internet services.

The patent-in-suit in the Google Play case covers the basic concept of a changing offering of services. As put it at the December trial, the idea was to ensure that customers wouldn't have to throw away their phones every time there's a new catalog of offerings.

Nokia had previously stipulated to a stay of another lawsuit against HTC (one over Facebook-style multmedia tagging). Today's rulings were the first two decisions in any of the patent infringement actions Nokia started in May 2012 in the United States and Germany (and which also involves more than a dozen UK cases by now). The next Nokia v. HTC decision will also be made in Mannheim: on March 19, a different chamber (panel of judges) will announce a decision, which will most likely be a final ruling in Nokia's favor as HTC was unable to deny Nokia's infringement contentions at a trial held last month, on a power-saving patent.

Nokia is also suing ViewSonic over the Google Play patent.

HTC's lead counsel in the two Nokia cases adjudged today, Dr. Martin Chakraborty, personally attended the announcement. In the Google Play case he was supported by Quinn Emanuel's Dr. Marcus Grosch, who represented Google.

While Google Play is safe in Germany for the time being, settlement pressure on HTC may be massive after the ruling scheduled for March 19 on the aforementioned power-saving patent, and Google isn't off the hook either: Microsoft is clearly on the winning track against Google and Motorola Mobility in a Munich action targeting Google Maps.

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