Monday, July 11, 2022

Additional standard-essential patent assertions against Stellantis (multi-brand car maker) and Nissan discovered in Munich

Apple chose the Munich I Regional Court as the venue for the first standard-essential patent (SEP) assertion in its history, and it seems that Avanci licensors enforcing their rights against unwilling licensees among automakers are now focusing 100% on Munich.

In May, the Munich I Regional Court's Seventh Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Dr. Matthias Zigann) granted Japan's IP Bridge an injunction against Ford Motor Company's German subsidiary, and the fact that Ford didn't make a FRAND counteroffer to the Avanci pool licensing offer was sufficient for Ford to be deemed an unwilling licensee. If Ford had made such a counteroffer, it might not have helped either (with Ford's subsequent decision to take the pool license, the Avanci rate has now been accepted by roughly half the market), but by failing to even give it a try, Ford was simply bound to lose. This means Avanci licensors enforcing their rights in Munich don't have to make a bilateral licensing offer: they can point to the availability of an Avanci license covering more than four dozen SEP portfolios (up to 4G for now).

Last month I picked up a couple of press releases by Longhorn IP that announced Munich SEP assertions by its L2 Mobile Technologies subsidiary

  • against Fiat Chrysler, the centerpiece of the Stellantis multi-brand automotive group, over EP1768330 on a "method and apparatus for handling timers during reestablishing transmitting sides in wireless communications systems" (case no. 21 O 5048/22), and

  • against Nissan over EP1852995 on a "method and apparatus of handling a variable of a RLC reset procedure during receiver-side-only re-establishment in wireless communication system."

I've now found out from the court's press office the case number of the L2 v. Nissan case: it's 21 O 6233/22, meaning that it has been assigned to the 21st Civil Chamber under Presiding Judge Dr. Georg Werner. The L2 v. Fiat Chrysler case will be heard on March 15, 2023, and L2 v. Nissan two weeks later (March 29, 2023).

A couple of Japanese patent licensing firms that are Avanci licensors are now also suing Stellantis and Nissan in Munich. Those cases have been assigned to the Seventh Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Dr. Matthias Zigann):

  • MiiCs v. Nissan:

    • Case no. 7 O 5635/22 over EP2129181 on a "mobile communication system, base station apparatus and mobile station apparatus" (hearing date: October 27, 2022)

      That patent previously belonged to Sharp, which asserted it against Daimler in Mannheim, but due to the court's doubts concerning the patent's validity, Sharp stipulated to a stay. However, the patent is now coming back with a vengeance. The Mannheim court wouldn't have reached the validity part if it hadn't been inclined to deem the patent infringed.

    • Case no. 7 O 5636/22 over EP2667676 on a "base station device, mobile station device, and uplink synchronization requesting method (hearing date to be determined)

      That patent, too, previously belogned to Sharp, which successfully asserted it in Munich against Daimler.

  • IP Bridge v. Opel (a German car maker that belongs to Stellantis):

    • Case no. 7 O 4500/22 over EP2294737 on "control channel signalling for triggering the independent transmission of a channel quality indicator (hearing date: March 30, 2023)

      That former Panasonic patent has already given IP Bridge leverage over various companies, most recently Ford.

Cases over patents that have previously been deemed standard-essential by the Munich court are slam dunks. Theoretically one could always come up with an incredibly strong argument that hasn't previously been raised, but the odds are very long against that. Plus, as I mentioned further above, the Munich court doesn't appear to expect Avanci licensors to make a bilateral licensing offer as the pool license is widely accepted by the market.

Given those facts, what are the decision makers at Stellantis and Nissan hoping to gain from litigation? There are the examples of Daimler, Tesla, and Ford, all three of which wasted many millions on litigation against Avanci licensors only to end up taking the license anyway (in Tesla's case it was not confirmed, but near-simultaneous settlements spoke a clear language). There are also companies like General Motors that saved those costs in the first place by taking a license prior to any litigation. What kind of advice are Stellantis and Nissan getting? That kind of resistance just strikes me as odd. If they don't settle, they're going to be enjoined. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"--that saying was even quoted by a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

While Munich is the SEP injunction hotspot, there are also some interesting non-SEP cases to be discovered in that venue. On Thursday (July 14, 2022), the court's Seventh Civil Chamber (Presiding Judge: Dr. Matthias Zigann) will hold a K.Mizra v. Niantic trial over a client-server technology patent that is being asserted against the company making and operating the Pokémon GO massively-multiplayer mobile game. That's one of the non-SEP cases I'm definitely following with great interest.