Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Most Nokia-branded phones banned in Germany due to enforcement of patent injunction by Fortress-funded VoiceAge EVS

Nokia itself stopped making phones a while ago, but a company named HMD has a trademark license allowing it to sell Nokia-branded phones (running Android, not Symbian). In August I reported on a patent injunction secured by VoiceAge EVS, an audio codec patent licensing firm funded by Fortress Investment, in Mannheim against HMD. Today I learned that VoiceAge EVS went ahead and enforced the injunction, which requires some security (bond or deposit) during an appeal, and apparently moved for contempt-of-court sanctions against HMD. As a result, HMD had to stop selling most of its phones in Germany.

Heise online, Germany's leading information & communications technology new site, spoke with HMD, which blamed the removal of the vast majority of its products from its German online shop on a defeat in an enforcement proceeding. HMD appealed the decision (which may be an order of contempt sanctions). It sounds like the Mannheim Regional Court sided with VoiceAge EVS over an enforcement-related question, and HMD then appealed that order to the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court.

EVS (Enhanced Voice Services) is a 3GPP audio codec standard (Wikipedia). Apparently HMD removed support for EVS from the products it most recently launched in Germany (Nokia G21 and G11; the latter is presently sold out). Some resellers such as Amazon and the MediaMarkt consumer electronics retail chain still have some older Nokia products on stock. VoiceAge EVS would have to sue those resellers as the injunction obtained against HMD does not apply to them.

While consumers generally don't know about EVS and the benefits it offers, there's a significant quality degradation (for the quality of voice communications) when phones don't support that standard any longer.

What VoiceAge EVS v. HMD shows is that German patent injunctions can be commercially impactful. Three years ago, Apple was unable to sell some older iPhone models in Germany because of an injunction Qualcomm had won in Munich. Shortly thereafter, the parties settled, but just because Apple needed Qualcomm's 5G chips. At that stage, Apple had resumed its German sales of certain older iPhone models by incorporating Qualcomm 4G chips into them. And last summer Apple settled with Fortress, which also resulted in the voluntary dismissal of all VoiceAge EVS lawsuits against Apple. Otherwise Apple would likely have been enjoined as well.

While we're on the subject of patent enforcement in Germany, there's a huge two-day trial taking place in Munich over the next couple of days in IP Bridge v. Ford (case no. 7 O 9572/21), IP Bridge v. Apple (case nos. 7 O 2395/21 and 7 O 2963/21), and IP Bridge v. OPPO (case no. 7 O 8133/21). All these cases will be decided by the Munich I Regional Court's Seventh Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Dr. Matthias Zigann).

The patent-in-suit (EP2294737 on "control channel signalling for triggering the independent transmission of a channel quality indicator") was originally obtained by Japanese electronics maker Panasonic, which declared it essential to 4G/LTE and later assigned it to Japan's national patent licensing firm IP Bridge. The patent was previously asserted against others, and an attempt to invalidate it went all the way up to the Federal Court of Justice, which upheld the patent.

Daimler would have had to defend itself against the same patent this week, but took an Avanci license late last year.

Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: