Monday, November 28, 2022

Nokia wins third Munich case against OPPO--more specifically, against OnePlus--after amending patent deemed likely invalid by Dusseldorf Regional Court in August

A few hours after I found out about a Nokia v. OPPO patent ruling from Dusseldorf (complaint rejected), I learned about a Munich judgment that also came down on Black Friday:

The Munich I Regional Court ruled in Nokia's favor and held OPPO affiliate OnePlus liable for infringement of EP1728352 on "secure data transfer" (such as contacts that are already stored in the cloud being downloaded when setting up a new device). That patent has not been declared essential to any industry standard.

There's an interesting twist in this. As I already showed more than a year ago, Nokia's litigation strategy against OPPO in Germany involved parallel assertions of certain patents, targeting OPPO in one venue and OnePlus in another. EP'352 was asserted against OPPO in Dusseldorf and against OnePlus in Munich. In August, the Dusseldorf Regional Court stayed Nokia's EP'352 case against OPPO pending a parallel nullity action as the court doubted strongly that the patent would survive the challenge. What Nokia apparently did is that they amended the claim language with a view to the Munich decision, and that strategy worked.

The Munich court was not bound in any way by the Dusseldorf decision, and I understand that the Dusseldorf court didn't elaborate in writing on its reasons to order a stay pending the parallel nullity action. However, it appears that Nokia decided not to take any chances. What is impossible for me to tell--and none of us may ever find out--is whether the narrowed patent still gives Nokia meaningful leverage in case it enforces an injunction. The patent will expire in a little over a year according to Google Patents. OPPO and OnePlus devices are not being sold in Germany at this point due to other injunctions that are already being enforced (two other Munich injunctions, and two from Mannheim). That's why there likely won't be a real-life experiment that would tell us whether the amended patent can be worked around. Sometimes plaintiffs can salvage a patent through an amendment that makes it just as powerful in practice, but very often they feel forced to introduce a claim limitation that enables workarounds.

Given that the patent had been amended after the Dusseldorf stay, I wouldn't necessarily conclude from the divergent Dusseldorf and Munich outcomes over the same patent that Nokia prevailed in Munich because it's a plaintiff-friendlier venue. It could be that the original patent would have failed in Munich as it did in Dusseldorf, and that the amended one would have succeeded in Dusseldorf as it ultimately did in Munich. That said, the fact of the matter is that Nokia has won three cases (over four patents, but only from three different patent families) out of five in Munich (two Munich cases got stayed), and has not won a single one of the three that have been decided in Dusseldorf so far.

The dispute between Nokia and OPPO continues to be an interesting one to follow--more interesting than I would have thought when it all started in July 2021.