Thursday, October 14, 2021

French industrial conglomerate Thales suing Avanci and Nokia in Munich over alleged antitrust violations by refusing to grant component-level patent licenses

Just like my previous post (on a newly-discovered IP Bridge v. Ford Motor Company case pending in Munich), this post relates to automotive standard-essential patent (SEP) licensing issues.

The Nokia v. Daimler dispute lasted almost two years, and only toward the very end did French industrial giant Thales intervene. Thales makes network access devices (NADs), which other companies then incorporate into their telematics control units (TCUs). Thales is a tier 2 supplier by automotive supply-chain terminology, and its customers are tier 1 (i.e., direct) suppliers.

A couple of weeks ago, OffshoreAlert listed a U.S. discovery request that Thales made from InterDigital in order to use the information so obtained in an antitrust litigation in Munich against the Avanci patent pool and Nokia. InterDigital is an Avanci licensor (as are Nokia and roughly three dozen other companies).

I've looked at the German complaint and expect it to go nowhere. I won't elaborate on any details today, but I did want to publish a couple of documents and share a few high-level observations. First, the memorandum of law in support of the U.S. discovery request (this post continues below the document):

21-09-30 Memorandum of Law ... by Florian Mueller

A copy of the Munich antitrust complaint was attached to the U.S. discovery request (this post continues below the document):

21-07-01 Thales v. Nokia &a... by Florian Mueller

Thales filed that lawsuit with the Munich I Regional Court's 37th Civil Chamber, which hears antitrust cases. However, the case has since been reassigned to the same court's 21st Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Tobias Pichlmaier), which specializes in patents. The court's patent judges are already intimately familiar with automotive supply-chain licensing by virtue of having heard and decided a number of other automotive cases, including but not limited to Nokia v. Daimler. Not only would it have been grossly inefficient to have a different division of the court familiarize itself with the issues but there would also have been a clear and present danger of inconsistent decisions between the court's different divisions. Also, one of the members of the 21st Civil Chamber--Judge Dr. Anne-Kristin Fricke--is a former antitrust judge.

Thales is not seeking a license but asks for a finding that it is entitled to antitrust damages, the exact amount of which would be quantified at a later stage. Given that Thales is not praying for injunctive relief, the case is a lot less urgent than virtually all patent infringement cases filed with the same court.

Finally, here's the English translation of the complaint that Thales provided to the U.S. court:

21-07-01 (en Translation) T... by Florian Mueller

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