Friday, April 12, 2013

Nokia streamlines ITC case against HTC, focuses on four patents after withdrawal of three others

Today a motion for partial termination that Nokia filed yesterday with the United States International Trade Commission (USITC, or just ITC) in the investigation of its complaint against HTC entered the trade agency's electronic filing system. Nokia drops three patents from its complaint and will now focus on four patents-in-suit at the evidentiary hearing (trial) scheduled to begin on May 31.

Originally, Nokia had asserted nine patents (for a complete list see this post), but it was clear from the beginning that some serious streamlining would have to occur. Nokia withdrew the first patent in October 2012; the ITC subsequently referred one patent to arbitration (on debatable grounds); and Nokia dropped several claims of one patent (but kept others in the game).

The ITC generally expects complainants to narrow their cases so it can keep its schedules. Nokia also did this in its dispute (meanwhile settled) with Apple. Four patents is a pretty common number of patents to be asserted at ITC trials if the original complaint involved nine or ten patents. Larger sets of patents are quite uncommon at that stage.

The three patents Nokia has dropped are U.S. Patent No. 7,106,293, which is a light guide patent (the Mannheim Regional Court had held the German equivalent of this one not to be infringed by HTC), and two closely-related database synchronization patents, U.S. Patent No. 6,141,664 and U.S. Patent No. 7,209,911. On March 22 I reported on Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas Pender's claim construction order. I pointed out that one of the patents-in-suit indeed appears to read on tethering and could have enormous commercial value to Nokia going forward. I also expressed my belief that Nokia would "consider withdrawing three" of the five patents with respect to which Judge Pender had construed disputed terms. The three that Nokia has now withdrawn are precisely the ones with respect to which it lost the claim construction battle. So I'm not surprised in the slightest. Pursuing any claims over these patents seemed pretty pointless after the claim construction order, but claim construction is the kind of guidance that parties really need so they can choose which claims to drop and which ones to focus on.

So far Nokia has obtained one German injunction against HTC, but HTC clearly said that its business would not be affected. In that post I also listed the 40 different patents-in-suit Nokia had asserted against HTC in the United States and Germany. Most of Nokia's claims haven't come to judgment yet.

Google is participating in this investigation as an intervenor with respect to certain patents alleged to read on Android.

HTC is countersuing Nokia in Germany. It's asserting a power-saving patent in two venues (Mannheim and Munich), and its wholly-owned subsidiary S3 Graphics, which it acquired particularly for the retaliatory potential of its patent portfolio, is suing Nokia in Mannheim over a video patent allegedly infringed by Qualcomm's Snapdragon chip. The Mannheim Regional Court held a trial today that I didn't attend (I didn't go to any hearings/trials this week, but will do so again next week).

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