Thursday, July 8, 2021

Nokia suing Oppo in multiplicity of jurisdictions over 5G and other patents (some but not all standard-essential)

Nokia means business. Less than three months after getting Lenovo to pay up, and little more than a month after selling Daimler a patent license at Nokia's preferred level of the supply chain (the end product), IAM broke the news on Twitter this morning of Nokia having filed patent infringement complaints against Chinese Android device maker Oppo.

I've since asked around to find out more. Patent enforcement is big business but a small world. While Nokia announced a patent license agreement with Oppo in November 2018 (which has apparently just expired), all that they say today is the following:

"We have been negotiating the renewal of our patent licensing agreement with Oppo but unfortunately they have rejected our fair and reasonable offers. Litigation is always our last resort and we have offered to enter into independent and neutral arbitration to amicably resolve the matter. We still believe this would be the most constructive way forward."

IAM listed four jurisdictions, and did not claim to have an exhaustive list. It apppears that actions have been brought in a multiplicity of European and Asian countries over both standard-essential patents (SEPs) and non-SEPs. The Non-SEPs-in-suit relate to connectivity, user interface, and security features.

As for Nokia's preference for arbitration, it has always been my position that SEP arbitration is a matter of parameters. I have not been able to find out on what terms Nokia would like to enter into arbitration with Oppo.

Last year, Oppo joined the Avanci patent pool, which licenses SEPs to car makers. Nokia is one of the driving forces behind Avanci. Avanci has not set its 5G royalty rate, which I guess is mostly attributable to the fact they haven't been able to agree internally on how to share the revenues. But up to 4G, it appears that Nokia and Oppo have a rough idea as to the relative value of either company's wireless SEP portfolio. Oppo holds some cellular SEPs, but far fewer than Nokia--and Nokia also has non-cellular SEPs (WiFi, video codecs etc.), and lots of non-SEPs.

It's possible that Oppo will countersue, but unlikely that it can gain much leverage that way. If Oppo really wanted to hurt Nokia, it would have to sue carriers using Nokia's mobile base stations--but for a smartphone maker it's not advisable to hold the number one distribution channel hostage. Also, in some jurisdictions the hurdle is high to get a telecommunications network switched off. (In Germany, despite a reference to third-party interests in its new patent injunction statute, that is going to be a non-issue whenever a licensing offer is on the table.)

Germany is one of the jurisdictions in which Nokia is asserting patents against Oppo. [Update] I've now found out they filed 11 complaints in Mannheim (talk about "Mannheim Steamroller"), 7 in Munich, and 6 in Dusseldorf. I don't know the patents-in-suit, but if I were them, I'd focus on non-SEPs in Dusseldorf. [/Update]

The two law firms that represented Nokia in the German parts of its recently-settled disputes, Arnold & Ruess (Nokia v. Daimler and the "inventors" of German anti-antisuit injunctions, which may become relevant should Oppo seek a global royalty determination in China) and Bird & Bird, apparently brought Nokia's German patent infringement complaints against Oppo.

With Nokia making a forceful push from the start, it's possible that this dispute won't last as long as Nokia's patent enforcement campaigns against Lenovo and Daimler.

Today's news may persuade others to renew their license agreements with Nokia soon. Even though Nokia describes litigation as its last resort, it's always prepared to take action. Oppo is relatively new to this game.

Just two days ago, the European Commission, representing the EU, filed an Article 63.3 request with the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding four Chinese SEP cases. I'm looking into that matter as well and understand that the Chinese government has roughly two months to respond. I gave a presentation on extraterritorial overreach in SEP enforcement in a mid-May webinar organized by the European Commission.

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