Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Call for input: do you know of any cases in the PC industry in which SEP holders refused to license component makers or based their royalties on the end product?

What you find in the headline is not meant to be a rhetorical question. While I'm personally unaware of any case in the personal computer industry (with just one exception that I'll state in a moment) in which a standard-essential patent (SEP) holder insisted on the end product (desktop computer or laptop) being the royalty base and/or refused to grant an exhaustive license to component makers, I can't rule out that there have been such cases in that huge and decades-old industry. That's why I'm asking for your help. Input from readers has previously been very helpful, such as in connection with privateering (patent transfers from to non-producing entities).

My focus is on mobile devices, and I've looked at PC-related patent litigation only when countersuits targeting personal computers were brought in retaliation for mobile patent suits. In one such case, an absurd letter by Motorola Mobility to Microsoft entered the public record: Motorola wanted 2.25% per unit from Microsoft and explicitly stated that "the royalty is calculated based on the price of the end product (e.g., each Xbox 360 product, each PC/laptop, each smartphone, etc.) and not on component software (e.g., Xbox 360 system software, Windows 7 software, Windows Phone 7 software, etc.)." To put this into perspective, on most PCs that royalty rate would have been roughly at a level with Microsoft's entire income from selling a Windows OEM license. Motorola made that outlandish demand in a letter, but limited its royalty demand to 2.25% of the selling price of Windows in Judge James L. Robart's now-famous FRAND case as well as in a similar proceeding (that led nowhere before the parties withdrew all pending claims) before the Mannheim Regional Court. Motorola even denied the undeniable later on--apparently they realized they had been a bit too crazy, fortunately just temporarily.

Video codec patents are one example of a category of SEPs for which patentees could theoretically have insisted that the royalty base should be the end product. Graphics and memory standards are another example.

What about WiFi? All I know is that I've bought WiFi cards for several desktop PCs in a row, just because it's always a nice fallback when there's an issue with a landline or a router. I can just get a connection via a smartphone with tethering--and in many places, other options exist. Obviously, when I bought those cards for roughly $40-50 each, there was no way any WiFi patent holder could have collected a royalty based on the total cost of the related PC. I paid my $40-50 for that component regardless of whether I plugged it into a $500 or a $5,000 computer. Apparently, the companies that made the WiFi cards I bought were fully--and exhaustively--licensed. It's the same situation when you buy an additional or larger memory chip or a new graphics adapter and just install such components yourself.

Today's smartphones are handheld PCs. If there really is no example (other than a letter Motorola distanced itself from) of SEP holders having treated the PC industry the way they're now trying to treat the mobile device and automotive industries, then that would expose the likes of Qualcomm, Nokia, and Ericsson as total outliers in the wider technology industry.

In case you do know of any cases, please fill out the contact form. I protect my sources unless you request--in writing--to be named. What I'm primarily looking for is verifiable information, such as publicly accessible court filings. If you have unverifiable information that you nevertheless consider highly pertinent, please let me know, too--but I may then have to follow up with you to get a better idea.

Thanks in advance for your help! I will publish the results of this call for input on this blog, in a future post.

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: