Monday, April 11, 2022

Vivo takes license from Sisvel to cellular standard-essential patent portfolio (125 families, 1,800 assets) partly owned by Mitsubishi, Wilus

Sisvel just issued a press release announcing the signing of a "portfolio license agreement for 2G, 3G and 4G standard essential patents" with Chinese smartphone maker Vivo. This deal directly and indirectly involves multiple parties I've mentioned in recent posts, which is why it caught my interest.

"The patent portfolio licensed under this deal includes over 125 patent families (comprising over 1,800 individual patents) deemed essential to the [2G, 3G, 4G] cellular standards," says the announcement. Where do these patents hail from? Sisvel facilitated the agreement for the entire pool. The three current owners of the licensed patents are

  • Japan's Mitsubishi Electric,

  • Korea's Wilus (which recently also appointed Sisvel as licensing administrator of its WiFi 6 patent portfolio; the deal announced today is not WiFi-related though), and

  • Sisvel, which has offices in multiple countries and is headquartered in Luxembourg. The patents Sisvel contributed to this deal were once acquired from

    • LG Electronics,

    • BlackBerry (Research In Motion),

    • Nokia,

    • Orange, and

    • Langbo.

While Vivo is now licensed to some former Nokia patents, it is defending against multi-jurisdictional patent infringement litigation brought by the Finnish company this year over the patents it currently owns. Little is known about that new dispute, though I'm trying to find out more.

It's going to be key for Vivo to convince courts in various countries of its constructive attitude toward licensing. It wants to be recognized as a willing licensee. The willingness analysis is obviously conducted on a deal-by-deal basis. For people like me watching SEP disputes from the outside, it is nevertheless instructive to keep an eye on secondary indicia of willingness. In that regard, I take note of the following quote from David Muus, Sisvel's mobile communication program manager:

"We came to this deal in a truly collaborative effort between Sisvel, Mitsubishi Electric, Wilus and Vivo, which is a testament to the parties’ capacity to build bridges. The Vivo team’s straightforward approach made working with Vivo a pleasure."

The other (also Chinese) device maker currently defending itself against Nokia is OPPO. By objective criteria, the Nokia-OPPO situation appears rather distinguishable from Nokia v. Daimler, Conversant v. Daimler, and Sisvel v. Haier. In light of Sisvel talking to positively about Vivo's "straightforward approach" and "collaborative" attitude, I wouldn't be surprised if the FRAND analysis between Vivo and Nokia also presented interesting questions that never came up in the aforementioned cases that were decided in 2020.

This is the second time in as many weeks that I point to a Sisvel endorsement of a Chinese smartphone maker's willingness to license SEPs. I quoted Sisvel president Mattia Fogliacco in a recent post involving Xiaomi.

Today's announcement claims that Sisvel has "now closed deals with companies that represent the overwhelming majority of the handset market around the globe." Vivo is one of the leading vendors by volume, mostly by virtue of its huge success in Asia though also making strides in Europe.

There may have been a time--roughly ten years ago--when Sisvel was deemed relatively litigious, but not so as we speak. Just last week I spoke with a German patent litigator who not long ago represented a party adverse to Sisvel (and also does a fair amount of work for patent licensing firms all the time). He told me he was impressed with Sisvel's president's very business-oriented approach. I can't name or narrowly define my source, but it was interesting to hear about that positive experience.

This Sisvel-Vivo deal fell into place without any infringement lawsuits having been brought, and it looks like Sisvel is generally effective at resolving licensing disputes out of court. At the moment there's only one high-profile enforcement effort by Sisvel that is ongoing, and that one involves the Ford Motor Company, which surprisingly still hasn't taken an Avanci pool license though many other automotive brands are licensed. I'm rather skeptical of the merits of Ford's Qualcomm-related patent exhaustion defense--and as I compare Sisvel's results as a dealmaker to the fact that it had to sue Ford, I also have my doubts concerning that automaker's take on FRAND.

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