Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fortress-funded VoiceAge suing Apple, Lenovo, Motorola Mobility, HMD in Munich over standard-essential patents: next hearing scheduled for April 28 (Apple)

Intel is currently defending itself against another case brought by a Fortress-funded non-practicing entity (NPE) in the Western District of Texas, and last month the chipset maker filed a second amended antitrust complaint against Fortress in the Northern District of California. There's one particular Fortress entity that brought (literally) dozens of patent infringement complaints against Apple: Uniloc, whose former CEO is now running WSOU (doing business as Brazos), an entity that brought about 200 patent lawsuits last year in the U.S. alone (plus an unknown but likely staggering number in other jurisdictions). Whatever policy positions I've expressed on the NPE business model doesn't prevent me from recognizing that Fortress Investment has financed a number of different NPEs, and they aren't all like Uniloc.

I've done some research on NPE activity in Germany, and found out that VoiceAge EVS--which has offices in Newport Beach as well as Ratingen (near Dusseldorf)--is a big fan of the Munich I Regional Court (Landgericht M√ľnchen I). Munich has become the best forum choice for patent plaintiffs seeking injunctions.

The patents VoiceAge is asserting in Munich are

  • EP2102619 on a "method and device for coding transition frames in speech signals" and

  • EP3132443 on "methods, encoder and decoder for predictive encoding and decoding of sound signals upon transition between frames having different sampling rates."

Both have been declared essential to 3GPP TS (technical specification) 26.445, Codec for Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) (thus the "EVS" at the end of VoiceAge's company name).

Last June, the Munich court held an early first hearing in two cases (case nos. 7 O 14091/19 and 7 O 15350/19) against HMD, a company that makes phones with a Nokia trademark license (but is otherwise independent from Nokia). Rumor in the German patent litigation community has it that it went pretty well for VoiceAge. The second hearing--the actual trial--will be held on June 24. HMD has raised a FRAND defense.

On the same day, the court's 7th Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Dr. Matthias Zigann) will also hear VoiceAge's cases over the same patents against Apple, Lenovo, and Motorola Mobility (which Lenovo acquired from Google). The case numbers are 7 O 8369/20, 7 O 11111/20, 7 O 7366/20, 7 O 8367/20, 7 O 10318/20, and 7 O 8368/20).

The court's 21st Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Tobias Pichlmaier) scheduled an early first hearing in a VoiceAge v. Apple case (case no. 21 O 13503/20). It remains to be seen whether that hearing can be held. The Munich court postponed at least one other case scheduled for the week before that VoiceAge hearing (as you might have guessed, due to the pandemic). Whether it is responsible to go forward with patent hearings and trials depends on a number of factors. I'm far more concerned about automotive patent cases like Nokia v. Daimler, as they typically involve numerous suppliers and really have the potential to become superspreader events. If the room is large enough, ventilation is ensured, and people have to wear N95 masks, a hearing like VoiceAge EVS v. Apple might be possible.

Wildanger represents VoiceAge in Germany (see Juve Patent). I heard that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer represents Apple (Freshfields is Apple's go-to patent litigation firm in Germany).

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: