Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Huawei asserting cellular standard-essential patents against Stellantis automotive group (Fiat Chrysler, Opel, Peugeot, Citroën etc.) in Munich and Mannheim

Wirtschaftswoche ("business week" in German) just reports that Huawei has filed patent infringement actions against the Stellantis automotive group, whose most popular brands in Europe include Fiat, Opel, Peugeot, and Citroën. The lawsuits were brought in Mannheim--where Ericsson had a great day in court yesterday against Apple--and Munich, where most automotive SEP enforcement actions were filed this year.

I have not yet received details on those cases from the Munich and Mannheim courts, but it's possible that the complaints have not yet been formally served on all defendants, prior to which German courts are not authorized to confirm anything.

Stellantis is--I regret to say--a notorious patent infringer. It engaged in hold-out vis-à-vis the Avanci patent pool until it was sued in the summer, and apparently signed up only because of the combination of infringement litigation pending and a license fee increase having been announced. Huawei prides itself on its innovative capacity, but it is a major implementer of standards (as the Wirtschaftswoche article also mentions). Huawei is the largest SEP holder outside the Avanci pool, and is known to be very flexible about the licensing level: for instance, Volkswagen was licensed through a supplier. As a company that has supplied wireless components to many millions of cars that are on the world's roads, it's hard to think of a major patent holder who would be similarly sympathetic to the automotive industry, making it all the more surprising that Stellantis didn't just take a license.

Wirtschaftswoche quotes Huawei's European IP chief Emil Zhang as saying that the companies they have sued "have responded to [Huawei's] licensing offers only with great delays or not at all." It appears that at least one of those companies is even extremely slow to react to formal complaints: against Netgear, the Dusseldorf Regional Court has handed down a default judgment. Other present defendants include AVM (a German Netgear competitor) and Amazon (presumably because of its WiFi-capable devices like Kindle and Echo).

This Huawei v. Stellantis patent infringement dispute appears really unnecessary. Who are Stellantis's suppliers? They could have taken a license from Huawei if the Volkswagen dea and Huawei's own efforts to secure exhaustive SEP licenses at the component level (such as from Sharp) are any indication. And why has Stellantis made tens of millions of cars with cellular connectivity before finally taking an Avanci license and now being sued by Huawei?

It's hard to think of a clearer case of hold-out. I'll now wait until the Munich and Mannheim courts are in a position to provide further details on those cases, such as the patents-in-suit, and will then be sure to report again.