Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Nokia loses first German patent infringement case against Daimler: weak patent not essential to LTE

The devaluation of a dying company's overrated patent portfolio has begun today. At 9 AM local time, the Mannheim Regional Court announced its final judgment in the first of ten German Nokia v. Daimler patent infringement cases to have been adjudicated. As expected, the court with by far the best technical understanding of cellular standards in the world tosses Nokia's complaint over EP2286629 on a "method and apparatus to link modulating and coding scheme to amount of resources." Contrary to Nokia's assertion, the patent is a far cry from being essential to the 4G/LTE standard.

Industry insiders know that Nokia, which failed in the mobile handset market because it was more focused on saving costs than delivering a great user experience, had already lost many of its best engineers when most 4G/LTE-related patents were filed. In its official communications, Nokia talks about the tens of billions of euros it invested in research and development in years and, especially, decades past. But the 2010s were the decade when Nokia took a definitive downturn from which it's not going to recover, short of a Finnish Steve Jobs emerging somewhere.

As I mentioned in my previous post (on a Munich case that Nokia can only "win" if the court is happy to be overruled within a couple of months at the most), Nokia's SEP portfolio is largely untested. The only judgment I remember was one that Nokia lost in Mannheim to a tiny rival (ViewSonic). In a recent conversation, a German patent litigator who has asserted SEPs for different plaintiffs on numerous occasions told me that Nokia itself presumably doesn't even have a clue as to the strength of its cellular SEPs, just because they've typically always settled before decisions came down.

So far, the SEP litigation score is "Defendants 2, Nokia 0."

It's fairly possible that Nokia, if it can't settle with Daimler (which Daimler shouldn't do because Nokia owes its suppliers an exhaustive FRAND license), will lose all of its ten pending SEP cases against Daimler when all appeals (including the nullity cases before the Federal Patent Court) have been exhausted. In the meantime, Nokia will have to negotiate renewals with various major licensees in the smartphone segment, and those licensees are probably watching what happens in those automotive cases--and wondering what they're actually paying Nokia for (though they all pay a fraction on a per-unit basis of what Nokia wants from Daimler in contravention of EU antitrust law).

The next round of mediation talks (unreasonably requested by a European Commission shirking its competitoin enforcement duty so far) will take place now, and most likely, nothing will come out of it. The fact that Nokia's ten SEPs-in-suit may not inclde a single valid patent that is actually essential to a cellular standard won't help.

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