Monday, February 1, 2016

As I suspected, the 2013 Nokia-Samsung patent deal is far from comprehensive: litigation still a possibility

In November 2013, Nokia and Samsung announced a five-year extension of an existing patent license agreement, with the financial terms left to determination by an arbitration panel. The scope was not announced, but back then, I expressed my belief that it was a license covering only (wireless) standard-essential patents (SEPs):

"I continue to believe it's a SEP-only license, including the 'additional' compensation."

Today, Nokia has announced that the arbitration result has a "positive financial impact" for its patent licensing division. Today's announcement explicitly states that this agreement has only a limited scope:

"This award covers part of the Nokia Technologies patent portfolio until the end of 2018. Nokia will continue to discuss with Samsung its other relevant intellectual property portfolios. Nokia has strong intellectual property assets consisting of intellectual property rights in the separate Nokia Technologies, Nokia Networks and Alcatel-Lucent portfolios, which include patents essential for a variety of standardized technologies as well as relevant implementation patents and proprietary technologies." (emphasis added)

See, I told you so. I remember a call I had with professional investors in late 2013 who told me they had spoken with Nokia's investor relations department and had concluded from their conversation that the deal was comprehensive. I told them I didn't believe so. I told everyone via this blog I didn't believe so. Now it's a fact.

While these two parties have so far been able to avoid going to court against each other, the above passage does mean that litigation (in the event they fail to reach an agreement) is still a possibility.

Nokia is the worst patent holder in this industry with respect to privateering. I've raised that issue in a couple of posts (see 1, 2). The fact that having a license from Nokia itself doesn't mean you couldn't still be approached by dozens of other entities monetizing Nokia patents probably makes negotiations between Nokia and potential licensees a lot harder than those talks used to be years ago.

The fact that most of Nokia's patent assertions against HTC failed (though HTC ultimately felt forced to take a license on whatever terms) may also make prospective licensees feel they should take their chances in court.

The next Nokia-Samsung announcement, whenever that one may issue, will most likely be a "fish or cut bait" statement. They won't be talking forever. At some point they will agree or Nokia will sue. I, for my part, would recommend to Samsung (if they asked me, which they obviously don't) not to overpay.

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