Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Escalation: Continental seeking anti-anti-antisuit (yes, 3x 'anti') temporary restraining order against Avanci, Nokia, Sharp, others

In July, Nokia surprised everyone by obtaining an anti-antisuit-injunction injunction ("AAII") preventing automotive supplier Continental from pursuing a U.S. antisuit injunction against Nokia in an effort to shield Continental customer Daimler from Nokia's ten (and possibly other) German patent infringement suits. When that news broke, a few people in the industry were already wondering about whether the next level of escalation would be an anti-anti-antisuit motion. In fact, there is historic precedent for that, though it's rare.

Here we go--a couple of hours ago, Continental brought a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), asking Judge Lucy H. Koh of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to bar within a matter of hours--ex parte, i.e., without a hearing--Avanci, Nokia, Sharp, Conversant (which has very recently become the third and latest Avanci member to sue Daimler for patent infringement, as I reported earlier today), and Optis from seeking another AAII against Continental in Germany.

Today's TRO motion renews the original pursuit of a U.S. antisuit injunction against those defendants, but now also includes Sharp. About a month ago, Judge Koh had denied the previous motion without prejudice, explicitly allowing renewal (but didn't want to entertain multiple motions in a row).

I've criticized Continental's lawyers very harshly. I thought the original motion was overbroad. They were seeking to shield Daimler even from lawsuits targeting cars that don't come with an accused Continental component, which I described as behaving like a class-action plaintiff without meeting the requirements for a class action; they failed to clarify at the time that they didn't mean to enjoin Sharp, which wasn't a defendant when the original motion was brought and when defendants had to respond to it (but by now Sharp has been added to the case--and presumably been properly served, too); and they originally wanted to prevent patent assertions against Daimler regardless of remedies sought.

Continental has now brought a narrowly-tailored TRO. That makes a lot more sense, and I feel that their decision to focus on what's more realistically achievable (though a motion for an antisuit injunction or TRO is never a cakewalk) also validates my criticism. They've abandoned their unbelievable attempt to overreach, and I commend them for that. Now it's just about Daimler cars that come with accused Continental components; it's only about parties that were in the case at the relevant time; and it's only about preventing those Avanci members from seeking injunctive relief against Daimler.

The current TRO motion does not include the first ten cases Nokia brought against Daimler in Germany. Continental already had to withdraw that part of the original motion in September due to Nokia's Munich AAII. But the motion notes that--as this blog has also reported--the Munich Higher Regional Court will hear Conti's appeal on Halloween, and should the existing AAIIs be lifted, Conti will inform Judge Koh and will presumably seek an extension to those cases.

The exclusion of those ten pending Nokia v. Daimler cases is a major limitation. Even if today's TRO motion succeeded, the Avanci group would achieve its strategic goal of forcing Daimler to accept their supra-FRAND royalty rates if Nokia just got enough leverage from one of those first ten cases.

Continental has certainly become very reasonable now. Will they succeed? I generally like to offer predictions, but in this case I'll refrain from it, especially since this motion will likely be resolved very swiftly one way or the other.

The anti-anti-antisuit request makes a lot of sense. It could be that Judge Koh flatly declines to play a long-distance game of leverage with her Munich counterparts, but she might also conclude that an anti-anti-antisuit TRO just for the purpose of quickly resolving the actual motion is reasonable.

The more conventional part of the motion, which comes down to a motion for an antisuit (just one "anti" for a change) injunction that would start as a TRO (TROs need to be converted into injunctions after a short while or they automatically expire), is now narrowly-tailored as I said. This is a clear case of standard-essential patent holders--who whine about "hold-out" (implementers' delay tactics) all the time--being unwilling to license a company just because they don't like Conti's position in the supply chain and consider car makers like Daimler the more lucrative type of target. That's a strong policy argument in favor of Conti's U.S. case. The primary issue is still timing. What matters here is not the date of the motion, but the date of the filing of the original complaint. The Northern California complaint was brought in May, but Nokia's and Sharp's patent assertion campaigns against Daimler started before. However, timing is not an issue with respect to any cases that were filed after Continental's U.S. complaint (such as that newly-discovered Conversant lawsuit) or will be filed going forward. The two Munich AAIIs that are in effect (one against the U.S. entity that is the plaintiff in California, and one against the German group parent) require Conti to exclude Nokia's first ten cases from the scope of the requested TRO for the time being. So timing could become a bigger issue should Conti, after a successful appeal in Munich (a Happy Halloween scenario for Conti), seek to broaden the scope of the order they're seeking.

This is an interesting procedural twist, and should I find anything worth highlighting after a closer look (so far I've looked at those documents only cursorily), I may do a follow-up post, though chances are that some sort of a decision--even if just a procedural order--will come down before I even get there.

Let me now, finally, show you both the motion and the underlying memorandum (two documents):

19-10-08 Continental Motion... by Florian Mueller on Scribd

19-10-08 Continental Memo I... by Florian Mueller on Scribd

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