Saturday, August 10, 2019

Foxconn-owned Sharp is suing Daimler over five patents in two German courts: concerted action by contributors to Avanci pool?

Through a filing with Judge Lucy H. Koh's court in the Northern District of California, I've become aware of the following patent infringement complaints (presumably but not necessarily involving one or more requests for injunctive relief) filed by Foxconn subsidiary Sharp Corporation against Daimler in Germany:

  • Mannheim Regional Court (Second Civil Chamber under Presiding Judge Dr. Holger Kircher):

    • EP2154903 on a "mobile communication system, base station device, and mobile station device" (case no. 2 O 46/19; complaint filed on 12 April 2019)

    • EP2129181 on a "mobile communication system, base station apparatus and mobile station apparatus" (case no. 2 O 87/19; complainted filed on 5 June 2019)

  • Munich I Regional Court (Twenty-First Civil Chamber under Presiding Judge Tobias Pichlmaier):

    • EP2854324 on a "communication system and mobile station apparatus" (case no. 21 O 8609/19; complaint filed on 25 June 2019)

    • EP2312896 on a "base station device, mobile station device and corresponding communication methods using carrier aggregation" (case no. 21 O 9918/19; complaint filed on 27 June 2019)

  • Munich I Regional Court (Seventh Civil Chamber under Presiding Judge Dr. Matthias Zigann)

    • EP2667676 on a "base station device, mobile station device, and uplink synchronization requesting method" (case no. 7 O 8818/19; complaint filed on 28 June 2019)

The sequence of those filings may be attributable to the following dynamics:

  • Sharp filed the first lawsuit in Mannheim in mid April just to demonstrate to Daimler that they were serious about forcing Daimler to license their patents through the Avanci pool.

  • When Daimler didn't bow, they brought another one in early June (same venue: Mannheim). It may have been assigned to the same chamber by coincidence, but more likely Sharp just amended the complaint, in which case German courts automatically sever any new patents-in-suit, but keep the case in the same chamber.

  • The three Munich filing in late June were presumably made to have a high likelihood of getting at least one case assigned to either of the two Munich panels hearing patent infringement cases. Historically, the 7th Civil Chamber used to be considered faster and more patentee-friendly than the 21st, but that may change now.

I haven't been able to find any other report on those Sharp v. Daimler cases prior to this blog post. Others have, however, reported on complaints brought by Broadcom and Nokia.

Like Nokia's German patent infringement suits against Daimler, those Sharp cases involve, at least in part, cars that come with a telematics control unit (TCU) supplied by Continental, which alleges that "Sharp's lawsuits are evidence of the immediate, substantial threat that Avanci will encourage or direct its members to engage in a concerted litigation campaign in an effort to force Continental’s OEM customers to take a non-FRAND license through Avanci." The allegation I just quoted is made in Continental's reply in support of its motion for a U.S. antisuit injunction against Nokia (this post continues below the document):

19-08-09 Continental Reply ... by Florian Mueller on Scribd

Some high-level observations on the reply brief:

  • Just like the original motion, it's strong on policy and economic reasoning, but suffers from some deficiencies. The document looks like a lot of effort has gone into it, as they are under significant pressure. However, at this stage Continental's lawyers can try to explain away some facts but can't change them anymore.

  • They keep pursuing the U.S. antisuit injunction, arguing that Nokia hasn't properly served its Munich anti-antisuit-injunction injunction under the Hague Convention. Consistently with that position, they haven't even objected to the Munich injunction yet, but they have announced their intent to do so once they believe the Hague Convention has been complied with.

  • Continental's lawyers want Judge Koh to gloss over their suboptimal structure. While it's true that the question of functional identity between the parties in the enjoining U.S. case and the enjoined foreign action shouldn't be looked at it in exceedingly formalistic terms, Continental simply could have made it a whole lot easier for Judge Koh. It's true, but besides the point, that Daimler wasn't in a position to serve a third-party notice under German law on Continental U.S. for lack of direct liability. But then Continental simply should have made sure that an entity with a closer connection with those German infringement cases would have been another plaintiff in the U.S. case (and, consequently, one of two or more movants seeking the antisuit injunction against Nokia).

  • With respect to the functionality identity of parties, Continental concedes that the proposed application of the customer suit exception (which usually governs motions to transfer cases within the U.S.) should be applied in the context of a cross-border antisuit injunction "is a case of first impression." I'm sympathetic to Continental's position on the customer suit exception, and as Continental notes, Nokia can't "point to any case wherein application of the customer suit exception doctrine was rejected in the context of a motion for anti-suit injunction." But, again, you make your bed and you lie in it. I still believe it was a major and potentially (though I hope it won't be) fatal for the motion that they didn't make a better choice as to the legal entities behind the U.S. antisuit motion. It would be great if Judge Koh granted the motion anyway, but Continental's lawyers have no one to blame but themselves in case she concludes otherwise.

  • As a matter of policy and industry practice, Continental is right that SEP licenses, also including the ones granted by Avanci, typically cover an entire corporate group. Therefore, Continental U.S. and the legal entities implicated in the German infringement proceedings are in the same boat: the whole purpose of the U.S. case (before they even brought an antisuit injunction motion) was to secure a license on FRAND terms that would benefit the entire Continental group.

  • Continental's reply brief says "Nokia's contention that 'under no circumstances will Daimler be 'forced' (in the German proceedings) to accept a license proposal on anything other than truly FRAND terms' is highly disingenuous." That is hyperbole. The two SEP antisuit injunctions in the Ninth Circuit that Continental points to are Microsoft v. Motorola and Huawei v. Samsung (where Samsung, the defendant, was the successful movant). The latter case was more recent, but about Chinese patent injunctions. The former case is older, and the case law in Germany regarding SEP injunctions subsequently changed fundamentally when the Court of Justice of the EU's Huawei v. ZTE ruling did away with Germany's misguided application of the Federal Court of Justice of Germany's Orange Book doctrine. In that Microsoft case, which I watched closely (both the U.S. FRAND case and the German infringement proceedings, where I attended the trial as well as the announcement of the decision), there was a far greater discrepancy between U.S. and German SEP injunction case law. It's true that Judge William H. Orrick defined the potentially-frustrated U.S. policy rather broadly in Huawei v. Samsung, but that was a FRAND determination case that Huawei itself had chosen to bring in the U.S.--and it's unclear how the Federal Circuit would have ruled as the parties settled before an appellate opinion came down.

  • They downplay--actually, deny--the relevance of timing, but comment on it anyway. In that context it strikes me as odd that Continental would point to the timing of an EU antitrust (DG COMP) complaint: that is simply not a substitute for bringing an action in the U.S. at an earlier point in time.

  • In another timing context, they still argue that Nokia sought an extension of time in the U.S. only to seek a German anti-antisuit-injunction injunction (though there are different lawyers working on the cases in those jurisdictions), and that Nokia overstated the urgency of that matter to the Munich court, with Continental saying a decision by Judge Koh ahead of the August 9 reply brief "would be virtually unheard-of in connection with a fully-noticed motion in the U.S.," though "virtually unheard-of" does not mean "procedurally impossible," but more importantly, I already explained in a previous post that Continental could have waived the optional reply brief, just like they now sort of waive the right to a hearing (Judge Koh might have taken this here under advisement anyway, which is one of her strategies for high efficiency), or they could have filed it very shortly after Nokia's opposition brief (the pace at which Continental's lawyers have moved so far suggests they always need a lot of time for anything, but again, procedurally it would have been possible).

  • The part of Continental's reply brief that I completely disagree with is where they claim it doesn't matter that Nokia's German lawsuits also involve Daimler cars that don't come with Continental components. Here's a key passage:

    "Although it is true that Continental is not Daimler’s only supplier, the purpose of Continental’s lawsuit is to confirm that suppliers like it are entitled to a license, and set the FRAND terms and conditions for such a license. It would be perverse, to say the least, if Nokia could avoid an anti-suit injunction in a lawsuit brought by a component supplier willing to take a license on FRAND terms, and thereby perpetuate its illegal strategy of only licensing OEMs rather than component suppliers, by relying on the existence of other component suppliers which Nokia also refuses to license!"

    Sorry, guys, but your explanation mark and rhetoric fail to convince me. It's your damn job to either seek an injunction that isn't overbroad (by limiting it to Daimler cars that come with Continental TCUs) or to persuade other suppliers to join you in this case. But just because your case may also have a bearing on--or may even be the next best thing to direct applicability to--the legal interests of some other entities doesn't mean you can behave like a class-action plaintiff... which is why there are special rules for class actions.

    The court can obviously tailor the requested injunction more narrowly, and should Continental prevail, I think that's more likely than not to happen. And if it were up to Avanci and Nokia, the court to decide wouldn't even be Judge Koh's court.

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