Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Nokia, HTC, Google propose schedule for build-up to May 2014 ITC patent trial over Android devices

While Nokia, HTC and Google are awaiting a preliminary ruling on Nokia's first ITC complaint against HTC, which is scheduled for next month, they are already preparing the ITC trial on Nokia's second complaint over HTC's Android-based devices. The whole dispute started in May 2012, and various rulings have come down in Germany already (I reported on all of them, and will report on the ones scheduled for this coming Friday as well). The second complaint was filed in May 2013. Google is acting as an intervenor with respect to certain patents in both cases.

This month Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Theodore Essex allowed Nokia to add to the second investigation a patent that was already asserted last year but referred to arbitration at HTC's request. That patent relates to the routing of data to apps on a mobile phone and looks reasonably interesting at first sight. But Judge Essex wanted to "allow the parties sufficient time to conduct discovery relating to the additional" and two weeks ago set a target of approximately 18 months (counting from the institution of the investigation, which occurred about a month after the complaint), i.e., December 26, 2014.

Accordingly, the ALJ's initial determination would have to be filed no later than August 26, 2014. In order to have sufficient time between the evidentiary hearing (trial) and the target date for the preliminary ruling, Judge Pender has scheduled the trial for the period of May 12-16, 2014.

In a joint filing that became publicly available today, Nokia, HTC and Google made a joint proposal for the schedule of the investigation. It's truly a joint proposal: while such submissions by opposing sides often state more disagreements than agreed-upon items, these three companies are 100% in sync on the different milestones leading to the May 2014 trial and, before that, an October 2, 2013 claim construction hearing.

Nokia and HTC also made a joint submission these days in their Southern California dispute over RFID patents. The district court originally wanted to perform an early neutral evaluation (ENE) to give the parties guidance that might facilitate a settlement. But Nokia and HTC file a joint motion, asking the court to vacate the ENE schedule. They told the court that they "are engaged in ongoing negotiations regarding potential settlement of their global dispute relating to claims that each company infringes various of the other company's patents; the dispute involves, besides the San Diego case over RFID, multiple proceedings before the United States International Trade Commission ('ITC'), the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, and foreign jurisdictions, including cases before the High Court of Justice in England and the Regional Courts in Germany". The Delaware-based court and the ITC already require Nokia and HTC to discuss the possibility of a settlement, and "[i]n addition to [court-ordered] conferences, the parties have been meeting independently to discuss terms of a possible settlement". So they'd rather negotiate without the potential benefit of an ENE conference in San Diego.

Without a doubt, certain lines of communication are open between these two companies. They know each other quite well and have been coordinating their defensive efforts against patent monetizer IPCom for several years. The great unknown here is how far apart their positions on the terms are. The mere fact that parties hold frequent meetings doesn't guarantee a swift, amicable resolution of a dispute. For example, Apple and Samsung have also had numerous meetings over the last couple of years to discuss licensing (the ITC summarized these negotiations at a high level in a recent ruling, the related part of which I published), and Samsung continues to be a supplier to Apple, but a deal hasn't happened yet.

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