Thursday, October 19, 2023

My final FOSS Patents post: thanks again for your interest in my views

As I already indicated in the previous post, after all those years I have decided to move on in various ways. It's the year of new horizons for me.

This post is my final one on FOSS Patents. There is a possibility that others than me will maintain and contribute to this blog in the future. It will remain available as an archive for a transitional period.

I never monetized FOSS Patents. Not a single ad was sold. Not a single subscription. It started as a private, personal thing, and that's how my involvement with it is ending now. The content wasn't monetized either. Whenever I received serious requests for reuse, I authorized them, such as by the Library of Congress (LoC). By authorizing the LoC more than a decade ago to archive all FOSS Patents post, I already dedicated the content to the general public. And let's face it: the kind of content that you find here is rather short-lived in practical terms, though an archive may satisfy researchers' curiosity.

With the exception that I can't make decisions for third parties whose material I incorporated (which is easily identifiable as such, given that I properly quoted external sources and made the sources of images clear), you can use my FOSS Patents writings under the Creative Commons BY-ND license. Beyond that, I will consider even derivative works fair use so long as they don't create any misconceptions as to what my views really are--and what they are not.

I don't want to make this a big thing here. I'm neither celebrating nor mourning. This is a rational and well-considered step. Times change (for instance. I'm not available for consulting work anymore). I hope you enjoyed reading my posts as much as I enjoyed writing them, and I apologize for sometimes having gone off-topic.

I'm now, starting in a few days, going to be writing a book on the Microsoft-ActivisionBlizzard merger saga. I will do so in a beautiful place with excellent weather and in a quiet environment. That book project--my first one in decades--is going to essentially require my full attention until it's done. Given that I played Activision games in the 1980s, worked for Blizzard in the 1990s, opposed and thereby delayed a merger in the late 2000s, and played Candy Crush in the 2010s, I just want to write that book. And it's not going to be put under a Creative Commons license, by the way.

While my focus on that project will be next to 100%, I may sometimes voice my views on certain other topics elsewhere. There are many formats out there.

Once again, thanks for everything!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Sisvel subsidiary 3G Licensing wins jury verdict against HTC in Delaware: per-patent per-unit royalties of 37 and 43 cents; pool license would have been cheaper

[PRELIMINARY NOTE] Let me note upfront that this is one of the last articles--possibly the penultimate one--that I'll ever publish on FOSS Patents. That doesn't mean FOSS Patents will disappear immediately: it remains available as an archive for a limited transitional period and may very well be used by others than me in the future. Nor will I personally disappear, but in the nearest term I will focus on writing a book about the Microsoft-ActivisionBlizzard merger saga, which became the most spectacular turnaround in merger regulation history and gave rise to a decision by a U.S. federal judge that communications between Microsoft and me were not a legitimate subject of pretrial discovery (as I mentioned toward the end of this recent post). I am going to remain interested in patent litigation and patent policy, as I have been for almost 20 years by now, but I have various new ideas and have to decide which ones to pursue, how, and when. I'll say something more in my final FOSS Patents post. As I'm also in the midst of relocation, this is a time of change and fresh new starts for me. [/PRELIMINARY NOTE]

Damages verdicts over standard-essential patents (SEPs) are rare because most SEP licenses are granted without litigation and in the few cases where infringement actions are filed, settlements typically occur ahead of any damages trial. But yesterday was one of those exceptional days: 3G Licensing, a subsidiary of patent pool administrator and licensing firm Sisvel, prevailed in the District of Delaware on two--based on the company's name, guess what--3G patents over mobile device maker HTC.

On a per-patent per-unit basis, the damages figure that was awarded shows that SEP infringement can get a lot costlier than licensing. 3G Licensing prevailed on two patents-in-suit, U.S. Patent No. 7,995,091 on a "mixed media telecommunication call manager" and U.S. Patent No. 6,856,818 on a "data store for mobile radio station." The damages verdict is so granular that it makes a distinction for the '818 patent between "Verizon Accused Products" and "Google-Fi [a mobile virtual network operator] Accused Products":

  • For the '091 patent, 3G Licensing was awarded $0.37 per product, amounting to $7,228,042.13 for a total quantity of 19,535,249 infringing products.

  • For the '818 patent, the royalty is again $0.37 per product with respect to 2,551,265 units of the Verizon Accused Products (a total of $943,968.05), and $0.43 for each of 1,84,295 infringing products that are Google-Fi Accused Products (a total of $795,196.85).

  • In total, that's almost exactly $9 million.

  • 3G Licensing obviously participates in Sisvel's 3G/4G mobile communications patent licensing program, and the published "compliant rate" (for willing licensees) that applies to 3G UMTS is just €0.35. That's $0.37 for the entire pool (all relevant patents from multiple patent holders)--but here it's the amount that the jury now found HTC owes on a per-patent per-unit basis, with the number being even higher for the Google-Fi Accused Products. The complaint mentioned that 3G Licensing was open to bilateral as well as pool licensing.

That litigation has been going on since 2017, following (according to the complaint) extensive but fruitless efforts to work out a negotiated agreement. I wasn't following it, but now that this interesting verdict has come out, someone may wish to take a closer look at the history of the case. The dispute is also instructive with a view to the debate over the EU SEP Regulation: I've been saying since earlier this year that any attempt by the EU to encourage and enable hold-out in its own courts will make other jurisdictions more attractive, and I mentioned U.S. damages verdicts as another way for SEP holders to stop infringement. There is nothing an EU regulation could lawfully (and without violating international trade agreements) do to prevent patent holders like 3G Licensing from enforcing their rights in the United States, where damages verdicts can become costly for infringers.

For now, let me just show you the public redacted version of the jury verdict. There's actually a typo in the verdict form concerning the number of the '091 patent that I noticed, but it was easy to find the correct one based on the complaint.

3G Licensing v. HTC (case no. 17-cv-83-GBW, D.Del.): verdict form (public redacted version)

Friday, October 13, 2023

First Ericsson v. Lenovo & Motorola Mobility patent infringement lawsuit found in North Carolina after standard-essential patent (SEP) licensing negotiations failed: multi-jurisdictional enforcement underway

I found out from a Light Reading article that "Ericsson has filed a number of lawsuits against Lenovo and its subsidiary Motorola Mobility for patent infringement in multiple jurisdictions." While I have subscribed to Ericsson's press release on its website, and received an earnings update two days ago, I didn't get that one.

I'll try to find out more about that new cross-jurisdictional patent dispute that appears to involve SEPs as well as non-SEPs. So far I've been able to download from an electronic court docket the following complaint that was filed with the United States District Court for the Western Division of the Eastern District of North Carolina:

Ericsson v. Lenovo & Motorola Mobility (case no. 5:32-cv-570, E.D. N.C.): October 11, 2023 complaint

These are the five patents-in-suit:

As for the choice of venue, Ericsson's complaint points (inter alia) to a 2018 pleading in the Western District of Texas in which the Eastern District of North Caoflirna was described by those same defendants as a proper venue and forum conveniens:

"If, however, this Court chooses, in lieu of dismissal, to transfer this case, Lenovo and Motorola respectfully submit that the Eastern District of North Carolina (EDNC), and specifically the Raleigh Division, is both a proper forum for this dispute and the most convenient forum. . . . Under the patent venue statute, the Eastern District of North Carolina is a proper venue for both Lenovo and Motorola. See 28 U.S.C. § 1400.”

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Appeals court rejects Deutsche Telekom's appeal against IPCom: no SEP royalty refund

This is a quick follow-up to yesterday's report on the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court's appellate hearing in Deutsche Telekom v. IPCom. Unsurprisingly, the regional appeals court threw out the appeal as a spokesman for the court told me this afternoon. This means the Mannheim Regional Court's dismissal of the complaint stands.

Deutsche Telekom can try to appeal this matter to the Federal Court of Justice. Presiding Judge Andreas Voss ("Voß" in German) mentioned yesterady that the case has the potential to reach the top court. Whether this means that his court will authorize a further appeal is another question. The reasons for the appellate decision are not known yet. I look forward to a public redacted version of the decision in case it becomes available.

Deutsche Telekom is essentially trying to upend the standard-essential patent (SEP) licensing system--of which license-based settlments are a significant part--and even non-SEP licensing could be affected by extension (though antitrust law rarely applies to non-SEPs).

There are two case-specific factors here that weaken Deutsche Telekom's case:

  • They settled for convenience, not for hold-up. No injunction was being enforced. No injunction had been ordered. And no injunction was on the horizon. Now imagine what would happen if companies that took a license after an injunction came down, or on the eve of a likely injunction, sought refunds through antitrust litigation.

  • The license agreement in question contains a clause 8.2 according to which IPCom was under no obligation to get other telecommunications network operators to take licenses on comparable terms. Deutsche Telekom argued that this merely meant they could not enforce an obligation on IPCom's part to enforce, but IPCom could have given Deutsche Telekom a refund regardless. Deutsche Telekom also argued that there was no waiver of potential damages claims. That attempt to vitiate an important clause (which had resulted from extensive negotiations, led by Dr. Roman Sedlmaier as outside counsel for IPCom) did not succeed in Mannheim, and I don't know yet whether it also proved dispositive in the appeals court. Be that as it may, if Deutsche Telekom could obtain a refund on antitrust grounds, numerous other licensees who never signed an agreement that contains such a clause--and/or licensees who took a license under the threat of injunctive relief--would bring such cases.

Judge Voss gave Deutsche Telekom's counsel from Clifford Chance every opportunity to make their case. In my recollection, Deutsche Telekom had at least about twice as much speaking time as IPCom, and easily three times as much time as a U.S. federal appeals court would have allotted to them. Frankly, their arguments were exceedingly repetitive.

Quinn Emanuel's Jérôme Kommer didn't want to waste a minute of the court's time. He largely just pointed to his opposition brief, and focused on providing a few clarifications. Less is more in certain situations, and this was one of them.

It would make a lot of sense for that non-case to go away now, but Deutsche Telekom's litigation budget may have room for yet another appeal...

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Governments of three medium-sized EU member states agree: proposed SEP Regulation is overly intrusive and unbalanced

If the decision makers in Brussels knew and understood the facts and the law, they'd realize that the proposed EU regulation on standard-essential patents (SEPs) is misguided and should be tossed (in favor of a complete do-over) regardless of whether one is more sympathetic to one camp or the other. But political dynamics are sometimes detached from reality, especially in the EU, whose economic policy track record is abysmal.

That's why influential voices of reason are needed. Granted, the collective voting weight of the Netherlands, Finland, and Sweden falls far short of a blocking minority in the EU Council. But it's a critical mass of member state governments opposing the bill in its current (or any similar) form in order to get the attention of all the experts. Council working groups are composed of experts, who obviously get political directions from above, but the likelihood of them being receptive to technical (in terms of "legally technical") arguments is far greater than when you're dealing with politicans seeking reelection or higher office based on faux achievements.

That also applies to issues concerning fundamental rights. The EP(P) rapporteur on this one, Marion Walsmann MEP (EPP-Germany), even seeks to exacerbate the bill. Mrs. Walsmann's voting record with a view to human rights should be subjected to scrutiny. And just like the totalitarian political system in which she started her career, she seeks to silence and suppress rather than listen to critical voices:

According to what I heard from Brussels sources, Mrs. Walsmann is none too pleased with the draft opinion authored by her party colleague Professor Danuta Hübner (Poland), who is the international trade committee's (INTA) rapporteur. Mrs. Walsmann incredibly argues that INTA oversteps its competency by commenting on a wide range of aspects of the draft regulation, but a WTO treaty named TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) is reason enough for the INTA committee to look at the proposal holistically, with or without Mrs. Walsmann's blessings or misgivings. And if any additional reason was needed (it is not), the perspective of the EU's largest trading partner should be considered as well. INTA has no shortage of reasons to be profoundly concerned and to make its presence felt, for the sake of protecting the EU's reputation on the world trade stage.

Back to the EU Council, which would be in the best position to prevent an idiocy that could even turn out a tragedy.

1. The Netherlands

The Dutch government was the first one to formally voice criticism of the proposal. Others may have previously done so behind closed doors, though.

I'll now quote a few passages based on the English-language summary provided by IP Europe on its live blog (the two original documents--in Dutch--are also available: 1, 2):

  • "the intrusiveness of the initiatives relative to the perceived magnitude of the problem"

  • "the potentially adverse confluence of the proposal with the launch of the Unified Patent Court and existing (market) mechanisms such as patent pools and existing alternative dispute resolution options"

  • "the risk that by regulating the licensing practice for SEPs, the EU loses attractiveness both as a standardization environment and the place to resolve disputes effectively and efficiently"

2. Sweden

The Swedish government--which is not simply in Ericsson's pocket but also has major implementers of all sizes to take into consideration--discussed the EU proposal at a recent parliamentary committee hearing (minutes in Swedish). From a machine translation:

  • "the proposal put forward introduces a comprehensive and highly binding regulatory framework in an area where there was previously no regulation and places extensive tasks on the EUIPO, which has not previously handled similar tasks"

  • "the background analysis presented by the Commission does not support the view that such restrictive measures are necessary"

  • "it seems doubtful whether the proposed limitations on the ability of patent holders to prosecute infringements can be regarded as proportionate restrictions on their intellectual property rights"

  • "The Government therefore intends to work to ensure that the proposed regulatory framework is not introduced or, in any case, that the regulation is as limited, flexible and predictable as possible. In this respect, the Government intends, among other things, to work to ensure that patent holders' ability to prosecute infringements is limited as little as possible and that the authorisations granted to the Commission in the Regulation are limited as far as possible."

  • Sweden's Social Democrats went even further, saying inter alia that "a proposal as far-reaching and intrusive as the present one should not be used as a basis for legislation."

3. Finland

The Finnish government circulated a "U-letter" that discussed various policy issues including the EU SEP Reg (Finnish document). Based on a translation and a summary that I've obtained, the Finnish government has declared itself "highly critical" of DG GROW's proposal. Here are some key points:

  • "the proposed regulation is disproportionately burdensome on the right-holders and thus “likely to discourage European companies from participating in the development of international standards"

  • the scope of the regulation - the standards that it will apply to - is left to the Commission to define via a delegated act, which may confer disproportionate, inappropriate and unjustified powers on the Commission

  • the FRAND determination process restricts fundamental right to judicial review and thus raises the question of compliance with the WTO-level TRIPS agreement

Here's a translation of a longer passage:

"The Government considers it important that the regulation of businesses is clear, predictable, proportionate, competition-neutral, technology-neutral and innovation-friendly. An environment that encourages and inspires entrepreneurship means that businesses and citizens are not discouraged by excessive regulation. Intangible rights, such as patents, encourage businesses to innovate and promote the use of innovation in society. They are therefore an important part of innovation policy, which aims to build conditions in Finland that encourage companies to innovate boldly, innovate and grow internationally.

"The Government is highly critical of the Commission's proposed regulation on patents essential to the standard. The Council of State considers the objectives of the Regulation to improve the licensing of essential patents and to increase transparency to be important, but considers that the measures proposed by the Commission do not fully comply with the principle of proportionality. The proposed new regulation would create a significant regulatory burden, in particular for holders of essential patents, which is likely to discourage European companies from participating in the development of international standards. As such, the Council of State welcomes the fact that the Commission has taken into account the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in its initiative. However, the negotiations must ensure that a balance is maintained between taking into account the interests of essential patent holders and users of standards, which promotes the dissemination of standardised technologies and the development of new technologies and products, without placing an unduly burdensome new regulatory burden on enterprises.

"The Government is highly critical of the Commission's proposal that the proposed regulation would also apply, under certain conditions, to standards or parts thereof published before its entry into force and that the Commission would define such standards by delegated act. The negotiations must ensure that the powers conferred on the Commission are sufficiently precise, proportionate, appropriate and justified.

"The Government is highly critical of the Commission's proposal for a compulsory settlement procedure to determine the FRAND conditions for licensing essential patents. Negotiations must ensure that the regulation does not unduly restrict the right to judicial review, which is a fundamental right. The negotiations must also ensure that the proposed procedures comply with the terms of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) TRIPS Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights."

License-based settlements of SEP disputes in jeopardy: Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court heard Deutsche Telekom's 'antitrust' appeal against IPCom, anticipates review by Federal Court of Justice

I just attended a two-hour appellate hearing in the German city of Karlsruhe. The Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court is the appeals court that hears all appeals from the Mannheim Regional Court. In this case, the June 2022 decision to throw out Deutsche Telekom's long-shot antitrust lawsuit against standard-essential patent (SEP) licensing firm IPCom.

Given what's at stake, I was surprised to be the only independent person in the audience. Besides the three-judge panel of the Sixth Civil Senate (Presiding Judge Andreas Voss ("Voß" in German), Judge (and rapporteur) Professor Gloeckner ("Glöckner" in German), and Judge Professor Singer) and yours truly, everyone else was counsel for one of the parties (with a multiplicity of intervenors supporting IPCom). One lawyer who represented IPCom in infringement litigation many years back also attended on an informal basis.

From the beginning, I have considered Deutsche Telekom's complaint facially absurd. They want IPCom to repay all or at least most of a 220 million euro amount plus another 60 million (interest and possibly expenses) because their rivals did not license IPCom's patents, which Deutsche Telekom calls "discrimination." But the license agreement contains a clause (clause 8.2) that specifically says IPCom was under no obligation to get other telecommunications network operators to take licenses to its portfolio.

The fact that Judge Voss had to get Deutsche Telekom to resolve a discrepancy of several million euros between two references to the amount in dispute in an amended appellate filing they made about a month ago is just an embarrassment for a company that tries to bully a small patent holder. Given how much they are spending (and risking, given the German "loser pays" rule), one would think that they can at least get their act together without the court having to ask them at the hearing to reconcile their numbers.

That should not distract us from the real issue. My hunch was right that this appellate hearing was worth attending not because of Deutsche Telekom being likely to win (Judge Voss appeared rather skeptical, though he steered clear of stating a preliminary position on any aspect of the case), but because they try to create massive legal uncertainty for SEP holders of all sorts and sizes with a view to past and future settleements. Deutsche Telekom could lose, but there could be some holding--maybe just a dictum--that could have serious repercussions.

Toward the end, when making a routine check on whether some sort of settlement was achievable, Judge Voss--who personally presided over various of IPCom's infringement actions while he was sitting on the lower court--noted that "this dispute has the potential to be heard by the Federal Court of Justice." Earlier this year, that same court--in practical terms. Germany's top court for patent disputes--shocked the SEP licensing community by expanding the concept of patent exhaustion to covenants to sue last. That's why I believe there should be a lot more interest in that case, and it's astounding that I was the only one to go there. (It was, by the way, the last German court session I got to attend as a resident of Germany at least for the foreseeable future, given that I'll formally leave the country in a little over a week.)

With a view to that contract clause 8.2, Deutsche Telekom reiterated the argument that had failed in Mannheim: they said that private parties cannot enter into a valid and enforceable agreement that goes against antitrust law. What they want is a legal holding according to which (if one thinks it through) any SEP licensee could bring antitrust claims against licensors on the grounds of discrimination just based on their licensing activity that follows the settlement in question. Here, Deutsche Telekom argues that IPCom caused market distortion by not succeeding in getting Deutsche Telekom's German rivals to take a license. In other cases, the argument might as well be about the amount, and Deutsche Telekom's lead counsel specifically said that if IPCom had extended a license to Vodafone for 10 million euros (as compared to the 200-million-euro deal with his client), that would be a clear case of discrimination (Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom have similar market share in Germany).

I struggle with that approach. The practical reality is that patent disputes (not only but also SEP disputes) are always settled on a probabilistic basis: things could go better or worse for a given party if litigation continued. And if some key patents are invalidated, a portfolio may be devalued, possibly become impossible to license to anyone.

In this case, it's even worse: Deutsche Telekom even signed an agreement under which IPCom's subsequent conduct vis-à-vis other telcos wouldn't count. Deutsche Telekom argues that the clause merely does not impose on IPCom a contractual obligation to enforce. They say IPCom could still be liable for failing to enforce if the result is discrimination: unequal treatment without justification. Judge Voss made a good point: Deutsche Telekom's position comes down to requiring a SEP holder to become the "curator" of the downstream market (here, the market for cellular telecommunications networks).

Deutsche Telekom's counsel said that regardless of clause 8.2, IPCom could have avoided or otherwise addressed the alleged discrimination issue: by obtaining injunctive relief against unwilling licensees; by concluding FRAND license agreements with Deutsche Telekom's rivals; or by (proactively!) lowering its royalties when discrimination became apparent.

Those positions are very aggressive. The appeals court will make a decision (which could also just be a scheduling order) later today, and the parties will be able to find out about the outcome tomorrow morning. This is something to watch. If even despite that clause 8.2 Deutsche Telekom succeeded, even if not on the bottom line but in the form of some dictum, that could result in a flood of German antitrust complaints over the terms of SEP license agreements. The impact would far exceed that of the patent exhaustion ruling by the Federal Court of Justice. And maybe one or two aspects of this case will even be referred to the European Court of Justice...

Saturday, October 7, 2023

European Parliament rapporteur proposes further deterioration and radicalization of EU SEP bill, fails to understand issues and to demonstrate professionalism

Unlike those who engage in lobbying, I don't have to mince words when commenting on what's going on in the EU with respect to the proposed regulation on standard-essential patents (SEPs). Among other things, I've saidthat the EU SEP Reg does reinforce my belief that the EU--an economic policy failure, plain and simple--is on the wrong track in many ways. I'm currently moving to a far better-run country that is not an EU member and most likely won't join in my lifetime.

The European Commission's Directorate-General for the Internal Market (DG GROW) has already embarrassed itself with the proposal and with the partly absurd ways in which it has attempted to justify it. While there is a silver lining in the form of a counterproposal by the rapporteur of the EU Parliament's international trade committee (INTA), I've now seen the draft report by the lead committee's (legal affairs, JURI) and therefore the Parliament's rapporteur--and it's an unmitigated disaster.

As I mentioned in the previous post (which I just linked to), the EP/JURI rapporteur on the SEP Reg, Marion Walsmann, started her parliamentary career as an active supporter of East Germany's antidemocratic regime. I'll talk about that some more on another occasion, but based on what I've researched, her party--which was part of the "National Front" bloc led by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany--almost 100% consistently voted in favor of every single proposal by the ruling communist party until the Fall of the Wall (the only significant exception was in 1972, at which point Mrs. Walsmann was a child). If that is true, then she has a consistent voting record of siding each and every time with an oppressive regime that despised democracy and violated human rights--and was rewarded by the regime for contributing to some faux pluralism. One of the most corrupt actions in German history was to merge those bloc parties into West German parties, all of which seized the opportunity to clear their financial debt, except for the Greens, which didn't have a formal sister party in the GDR anyway.

Nowadays there are no more bloc parties, but there's a phenomenon called astroturfing that is not entirely dissimilar. In an annex that lists entities from whom Mrs. Walsmann received input, ACT | The App(le) Association" is also found.

There are some funny typos in that annex ("Philipps" instead of "Philips" and "Xiami" instead of "Xiaomi") and a fundamental error concerning the lobbying entity of her home country's automotive industry: as the long-form name for VDA, the annex states "Verband Deutsche Automobilhersteller", which is not only grammatically incorrect (an "r" at the end of the second word is missing) but simply not the name of the organization. The actual name is "Verband der deutschen Automobilindustrie." The difference is that the former refers to "automakers" while the latter also includes suppliers.

Those are not the only typos and errors. For instance, she espouses amendments to Article 9 of the proposed regulation that refer to determinations "per user case" while the correct term (which is used in many other instances in the same document) is "use case". Also, the German-language "explanatory statement" uses an inconsistent spelling for the German word for "essential": sometimes with a "t", some other times with a "z". And then there's an odd passage that says implementers can hardly find out "whether a standard is actually essential." She must have meant whether a SEP is actually essential to a standard. Then there are grammatical errors in a sentence about applications to which SEPs are relevant: the list of examples starts with the correct grammatical case ("dem Internet der Dinge"), but then switches to the wrong one ("vernetze Fahrzeuge" (which means "connected vehicles" and where a "t" is missing from the first word) and "intelligente Städte".

Why are those typos and other errors worth mentioning? It's just striking that DG GROW and its philosophically-aligned EP rapporteur can't even put out documents of a decent editorial quality when dealing with this subject. Actually, various of Mrs. Walsmann's proposed amendments serve no other purpose than to correct typos found in DG GROW's proposal. That's OK, but then she should get her own act together.

The degree of Mrs. Walsmann's alignment with the EC proposal is close to 100%, just marginally below the level of her alignment with East Germany's Marxist-Leninist dictatorship when she started her parliamentary career in the late 1980s.

It is ridiculous that she claims in her draft report to seek to strike a balance between the interests of SEP holders and implementers, and her reference to the need to address hold-out is meaningless. She simply wants implementers to be able to use the envisaged process to delay with impunity, which is reflected by various aspects of her proposal, such as the justificatio nof her proposed amendment to Recital 34:

"The parties should be able to wait until the outcome of the FRAND determination procedure in order to decide if they want to be bound by the result."

That is the very opposite of what UK courts expect of the parties. In the UK, one has to accept to be bound by a determination of whatever terms are in fact FRAND. If Mrs. Walsmann got her way, implementers could just say after the end of the lengthy process that a royalty rate isn't low enough for their taste.

Mrs. Walsmann's report clearly reflects that her understanding of how SEP licensing and enforcement work is lacking and wanting. Instead of fixing the problems with the original proposal, she just wants to add more elements that are indicative of incompetence. Three particularly stupid examples:

  • She proposes a new Recital 10b that would advocate allowing Licensee Negotiation Groups (LNGs). However, the issue with LNGs is that they are irreconcilable with anti-cartel rules if the collective market share is too high and an actual or threatened group boycott obstructs the licensing process. Possibly influenced by her astroturfer soulmates who falsely claim to represent small and medium-sized enterprises, she then writes that "LNGs benefit SMEs in particular." But SMEs typically won't need an exemption from competition law if they coooperate in reasonable ways: they won't even come close to the market share thresholds where there might be antitrust scrutiny. The ones who need an exemption are the likes of Volkswagen and Toyota.

  • Proposed new Recital 10a talks about patent pools. The proposal says pools "should also commit to FRAND terms and conditions." What would be the practical meaning of that commitment? Pools can't enforce directly, so all that matters is that a given pool's licensors are bound by a FRAND licensing obligation.

  • The draft report makes an attempt to define the term "patent assertion entity" (in order to then withhold certain SME benefits of the bill from them). The problem is that this is not going to work in litigation. One of the criteria there is that a company "does not engage in [...] the research and development of such inventions"--but it's going to be pretty easy for licensing firms to show at least a small investment in R&D.

The draft report also goes directly against the case law of the European Court of Justice and the courts of various EU member states by imposing obligations on patent holders based on declared--as opposed to actual--essentiality.

Let's look at the bigger picture. As I said last month, DG GROW's proposal is a hot mess that lawmakers can at best dilute, but not fix. We have a proposal on the table now from the trade committee's rapporteur, and that one comes down to dilution. It's like "we should actually vote against it, but let's make it look more constructive and merely strike one part (aggregate royalties) and defang the others." And now we see what the rapporteur wants to do: she seeks to make things worse.

The Parliament shouldn't follow this rapporteur, and not even her own group, the European People's Party, which has a clearly more reasonable alternative to choose that was authored by another EPP MEP, Professor Danuta Hübner from Poland.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Proposed EU SEP Regulation gets pushback from influential European People's Party MEP: draft opinion of Committee on International Trade (INTA)

Finally, the proposed EU regulation on standard-essential patents (SEPs) has been formally criticized--in the form of a draft committee report--within the European Parliament (EP). Not just from within the EP, but also from within the EPP: that's one more P and stands for European People's Party. The EPP is the largest group in the EP, though with 25% of the votes it's not as powerful anymore as it used to be at its peak where it needed only one other (and reasonably large) political group to form a majority (reasonably consistent voting along party lines provided).

There are many rapporteurs on a dossier (legislative or other matter) in the EP, which made it hard to get anything done against the EPP.

So I have to start with the proceudral context. The EP determines a lead committee on a given dossier. In this case, that's the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). One member of the lead committee becomes the entire EP's rapporteur. Every other political groups selects a shadow rapporteur, who is also a member of the lead committee. Sometimes shadow rapporteurs disagree fundamentally with the Parliament's rapporteur, whose positions may even be controversial within the same political group.

Here, the EP's rapporteur on the EU SEP Reg is Marion Walsmann, a (German) member of the EPP who started her political career as a parliamentary supporter of the East German communist dictatorship, which is my way to state a simple fact that is mentioned on the German but not the English Wikipedia page. The Christian Democratic Party of the German "Democratic" Republic was not an opposition party: it was part of an effort to pretend pluralism, and its politicians such as Mrs. Walsmann at the time enjoyed privileges for applauding the ruling communist party as it oppressed the true democrats in the country. There were opportunistic reasons for which all major West German parties except the Greens (there simply was no faux Green party in the GDR as the Green movement started toward the end of the GDR's infamous history) merged with their nominal East German counterparts right after reunification: it was mostly about money, and to some extent also about inheriting some existing structures. I'll leave that story for another day.

Mrs. Walsmann is deemed to be in favor of the proposal, or even of amendments that would cause further harm to SEP holders, but that is clearly not a consensus position, not even within her own political group. If one or more other committees are designated to provide an opinion, every such committee also has a rapporteur (and then there are shadow rapporteurs at the committee level). For the Committee on International Trade (INTA), the rapporteur is also a member of the EPP: Polish MEP (and former EU commissioner for regional policy) Danuta Hübner.

On Monday, Professor Hübner submitted her draft opinion: an 82-page document that contains a long list of amendments, the bottom line of all of whic his that SEP enforcement should not be restricted, complicated, obstructed, or delayed in any way, and particularly not the enforcement of non-EU SEPs.

Professor Hübner proposes

  • to drop the part about aggregate royalty determinations (for all SEPs related to a given standard) entirely, which is consistent with a proposal by one of the researchers who were commissioned by the EC's Directorate-General for the Internal Market in this context;

  • to limit bilateral everything else (which is not the case for bilateral FRAND determinations under the Commission proposal) to patents valid in the EU, which makes particular sense for a trade committee to propose but is equally common sense;

  • to define reasonably clearly the scope of the regulation and not to delegate excessive powers to the Commission, an aspect on which she is particularly qualified to opine as a former chair of the EP's Constitutional Affairs Committee;

  • to steer clear of disproportionate restrictions of patent holders' rights to enforce their IP, which actually raises international trade (as many patents valid in the EU are held by non-EU companies) and constitutional (fundamental rights) issues at the time; and

  • to put more specific and elaborate measures in place to assist SMEs with a view to their participation in standardization as well as with a view to assisting them in their inbound licensing efforts.

The draft committee report coherently and consistently seeks to codify those objectives and to straighten out some other flaws, such as a weak definition of the term "patent family." Professor Hübner's proposal is certainly of a far higher quality than the Commission proposal, which in this case is, however, not a significant threshold.

There are some details I disagree with. In particular, the rationale provided for some proposed amendments is that removal of a patent from the envisioned EU SEP Register would render it unenforceable, but one could even argue that such a patent becomes even more enforceable: national courts or the Unified Patent Court (UPC) could still deem it essential, but it would not fall under the rules of the proposed regulation, and even if courts did not deem it enforceable, it might be a formidable non-SEP. The only respect in which the removal of a declared SEP from the register is certain to adversely affect its owner is that the company's essentiality ratio for the purposes of EU FRAND determinations will go down. Whether national courts will be swayed at all by those EUIPO-led determinations by anonymous "evaluators" is impossible to tell right now. As a litigation watcher, I could easily see lots of situations in which an infringement court would deem a patent essential notwithstanding an EUIPO-led negative determination. If some national courts--as I've just seen in the dispute between Nokia and OPPO--arrive at different conclusions on comparable questions than courts in another EU Member State, why wouldn't they also just use their own judgment instead of adopting the outcome of an opaque and generally low-credibility process?

But let's not get lost in details. A month ago I already said that the EC proposal "is a hot mess that lawmakers can dilute but not fix due to structural issues, fudnamental rights, and international obligations." Looking at it from that angle, I think the most straightforward proposal for Professor Hübner to make would actually have been to propose only one deleting amendment. Strike the whole thing because it's crap. It's easy to see, though, why she didn't do that: while perfectly warranted, it would be viewed by many as not being constructive.

What would the net effect of those amendments be? Dilution and delay (the latter because she'd extend the initial implementation period from 24 to 36 months).

Would the proposal--regardless of the proposed INTA position being consistent and coherent--serve any purpose? No, with just one exception: the part about helping SMEs might make sense, though that one is so small that it wouldn't warrant an entire legislative measure in its own right. There wouldn't be much else left. The aggregate royalty determinations would be thrown out; the bilateral process would be voluntary, and while there are strong reasons for limiting the scope of the regulation to SEPs valid in the EU, global licensing disputes result in global license agreements, so it is doubtful that the FRAND determination process would play much of a practical role.

I hope that some political group(s) will ultimately propose an amendment that enables MEPs to vote down the proposal as a whole. But at this stage, all that people can do is propose countless amendments. This is still an early stage of the process.

The EP votes on each amendment separately, though the non-binding voting lists provided to MEPs seek to ensure consistency. If just some of Professor Hübner's amendments got support in the further process (be it a parliamentary vote or a so-called trilogue where representatives of the EP, the EU Council, and the EC try to broker a deal that an EP majority typically rubberstamps), the regulation could become toothless. It can't be reduced to absurdity because it already is absurd, but something absurd that may not even benefit implementers as much as some of them hope might be defanged.

The intellectually most honest and generally most rational outcome would be for the EU not to pass anything into law based on the current proposal. They should send the EC back to the drawing board, and maybe there would never be a second proposal. But it could be that some people just want to have some outcome so they will (rightly or not) claim victory as they seek a nomination for reelection or audition for higher office or whatever.

It would be a waste of time, money (particularly taxpayers' money), and energy. Sadly, the EU's economic policy initiatives don't work very often, yet there are always politicians who put their weight behind them and hope for political gain from them. Maybe that's the inevitable fate of this proposal, but I'm not ready to give up yet. Rationality could still prevail, and Professor Hübner's draft opinion is, by and large, a silver lining.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

USPTO invalidates Nokia patent as per OPPO's PTAB IPR petition: Nokia is appealing parallel decision by European Patent Office

Bring the popcorn. The seemingly neverending, multijurisdictional patent dispute between Nokia and OPPO continues to make news. Earlier this week, I reported on a decision by the European Patent Office (EPO) to uphold an OPPO patent in an amended form, and now let'see how the modified claim language will fare at a Mannheim infringement trial in early December and/or in a preliminary injunction proceeding before the Unified Patent Court (UPC). Now there's news from the U.S., a jurisdiction in which the parties don't have any infringement actions pending against each other, but where the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) instituted an inter partes review (IPR) roughly a year ago relating to U.S. Patent No. 10,701,588 on "methods, apparatuses and computer program product for PDU formatting according to SDU segmentation."

On Thursday, the PTAB granted the petition and held all challenged claims unpatentable:

Guangdong OPPO Mobile Telecommunications Corp., Ltd., v. Nokia Solutions and Networks Oy (IPR2022-00632, Patent 10,701,588 B2): Final Written Decision Determining All Challenged Claims Unpatentable

Nokia can appeal the PTAB decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, just like it also appealed in September a decision made by the Opposition Division of the European Patent Office (EPO) in May, which declared the European equivalent of that patent, EP3395029, invalid. Now that both the USPTO and the EPO have sided with OPPO in the first instance, any appeal seeking to salvage one of those patents is going to be an uphill battle.

It's been 27 months since the previous cross-license agreement between the two expired and Nokia sued without delay. OPPO's resilience is admirable. They're giving one of the very best in-house patent litigation teams out there a run for the money to say the least. It's become clear in recent years that some German judges have an anti-Chinese bias (which is not a conspiracy theory but was evidenced by problematic public statements as well as rather divergent decisions in neutral jurisdictions), without which the situation would look even more favorable to OPPO.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Sisvel's narrowband IoT patent pool boosts value proposition with Huawei and others bringing in many patents while lower rates enable new applications such as printable trackers

Patent pool administrator Sisvel just announced that Huawei, one of the largest patent holders in this space, has joined the narrowband Internet of Things (IoT) patent pool that was launched last November. The largest founding licensor was Ericsson.

This is the second Sisvel pool for Huawei to join. More than a year ago, Huawei started its working relationship with Sisvel as an initial licensor of its WiFi 6 pool (as Sisvel president Mattia Fogliacco recalls in today's press release) and is also an Avanci 5G licensor, which shows that the Chinese innovator is increasingly receptive to pool-based licensing solutions. Other major SEP holders may now be more interested in joining this pool, given that Huawei and Ericsson (as well as various other patent holders) already give the licensing program a lot of substance.

Sisvel's updated list of NB-IoT licensors contains several other names I haven't previously noticed, such as KPN, Deutsche Telekom, and BlackBerry. What licensees get is a "one-stop shop" (as Sisvel's cellular IoT program manager Sven Torringer calls it in today's press release) that gives them access to more than two dozen patent portfolios, with Huawei, Ericsson, and NTT Docomo being considered particularly strong in narrowband IoT. It's fair to say that Huawei had a leadership role in the development of the IoT-related parts of the 4G/LTE standard.

Sisvel's press release mentions "new royalty rates for the Cellular IoT patent pool, including for devices with a lower selling price," and that it has "expanded its offering to new product verticals." Previously, as I reported at the time, the rate was "$0.66 per unit for LTE-M" and "a distinction [was] made between asset trackers ($1.33 per unit) and smart meters ($2 per unit)." The $2 (smart meters) and $1.33 (smart sensors with a selling price above $20 and up to $130) price points are still found. But now there is also a $0.35 per-unit royalty rate for smart sensors with a selling price above $6 (up to $20) and a $0.08 per-unit rate for devices with a selling price of $6 or less.

For makers of low-priced IoT products, this means the value proposition has changed enormously in their favor: far more patents, and far lower rates for certain applications. It looks like two factors have resulted in this more flexible and attractive royalty structure:

  • In my commentary on the creation of the pool I already noted that the challenge for an IoT patent pool is market development: it's not enough to offer licenses or to dissuade implementer from infringement, but about adoption of the standard. Patent pool administrators operate in a two-sided market. They have to bring licensors and licensees together, and in order to do so, they have to listen to both sides.

  • Sisvel's new NB-IoT royalty rates are definitely reconcilable with Huawei's bilateral licensing terms for such products, which are highly differentiated as I explained last month. The pool is a one-stop option, but it's not the only way to get access to Huawei's intellectual property.

    Huawei is both a major patent holder and a large-scale implementer. If a pool worked for only one side, Huawei would find it hard or even impossible to join.

The rock-bottom rates that the pool now offers for devices with a selling price of $6 or less should enable new applications. What comes to mind as potentially the highest-volume and lowest-price NB-IoT application is called printable NB-IoT tracking labels. They are asset trackers in the form of stickers that could, for instance, track an Amazon package.

At a time when policy makers are working on an EU SEP Regulation, it's warranted to put major SEP news such as this one into the current political context. The European Commission's Directorate-General for the Internal Market (DG GROW) clearly underestimated the extent to which patent pools could be part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem. The favorite pretext (not only of DG GROW but also Apple and its allies and astroturfers) to push for legislative intervention is that IoT SMEs allegedly need a different legal environment. But patent holders are smart enough to realize that IoT patent licensing won't work unless the royalty rates enable IoT product makers to thrive. While I still haven't seen a single SEP enforcement action against an SME as defined by the EU, and the IoT sector is generally not a legal battlefield at the moment, the market continues to find and improve solutions.

Patent pools not only bring licensors together with licensees, but also have to broker a compromise between licensors of very different kinds. Huawei with its high product volume (which is not fully visible to people in the Western hemisphere for purely geopolitical reasons, but is a reality in the rest of the world) obviously has a more balanced take than a non-practicing entity, which is not meant to disparage NPEs but plainly a fact. In order for a pool to unite product makers like Huawei and Ericsson with infrastructure companies like NTT Docomo and Deutsche Telekom as well as with research institutes and patent licensing firms, it has to identify royalty rates that work for all of them.

An EUIPO-led process for aggregate (entire standard) and bilateral (licensor A and licensee B) royalty determinations will cause delay and complicate matters. In the meantime, patent pool administrators and other market actors work out and fine-tune the solutions they offer.

With so much in flux especially concerning IoT, the prudent thing for the EU to do would be to wait and better understand what's going on. Instead of trying to adopt something before the end of the legislative term just for the sake of having some kind of outcome to show (no matter how flawed), they should go back to the drawing board and take note of new developments, such as IoT licensing terms becoming more attractive at a breathtaking pace.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

OPPO defends another 5G patent against Nokia's opposition: Mannheim trial scheduled for December, UPC PI motion conceivable, and what would the EUIPO do under the proposed regulation?

Nokia and OPPO are giving each other a hard time in different patent validity fora. Recently, even some Nokia patents that gave rise to German injunctions have been deemed invalid in other--but definitely reputable--jurisdictions. It's a monumental, earth-spanning dispute. There hasn't been anything so large and long-running in the wireless sector for years.

The latest development involves OPPO's EP3624524 on "wireless communication methods, network device, and terminal device." It's a 5G declared-essential patent that OPPO asserted against Nokia in Mannheim, with a trial scheduled for December 5, 2023. In early February, an opposition panel of the European Patent Office (EPO) declared the challenged claims non-novel, but did not take a specific position on (non-)obviousness. Yesterday, the panel upheld the patent in an amended form.

The Bardehle Pagenberg patent attorneys who achieved that partial victory are Tobias Kaufmann and Dr. Nikolaus Buchheim.

In June, another OPPO patent-in-suit was also defended in an amended form, and a modification of the claim language that looked like a minor clarification to me resulted in a non-essentiality determination by the Mannheim Regional Court. So I want to be careful about any predictions at this point. The patent may or may not be standard-essential in its narrowed form. And if it's not essential, then it may or may not be infringed, but an infringement allegation would have to be based on what Nokia's baseband stations actually do as opposed to a (rebuttable) presumption that what reads on the standard is infringed by a product that has been declared standard-compliant. As there is no pretrial discovery in Germany (in fact, nothing even remotely like U.S. discovery), it is far easier to properly plead an infringement case over a SEP than over a non-SEP.

I've recently attended several preliminary injunction hearings before Local Divisions of the Unified Patent Court (UPC): two in Munich (with Bardehle Pagenberg having won one case while the other is under advisement), and one each in Vienna and Helsinki. Companies are increasingly concerned about the implications of a patent surviving, in one form or another, a validity challenge, as the UPC appears rather willing to grant preliminary injunctions over such battle-tested patents, provided (of course) that other requirements, such as urgency, are met.

The Nokia v. OPPO/OPPO v. Nokia dispute showcases various of the things that can happen in SEP enforcement, raising the question of what would happen--or would have happened--if the proposed EU SEP Regulation was already in force.

With respect to what implications the amended claims of EP3624524 would have under the EU SEP Regulation, there are at least two interesting questions:

  • If there had been an essentiality check based on the patent as originally granted, would the EUIPO routinely perform a new one in a situation like this?

  • If the claim amendments pushed the patent out of the area of essentiality, but the patent could still be asserted as a non-SEP, wouldn't the patent holder actually be in a stronger position than if it was deemed essential for purposes of the EU SEP Regulation?

Antitrust class action against Qualcomm (originally related to FTC action) thrown out on summary judgment; same judge previously denied discovery of my communications with Microsoft

In January, I reported on the partial dismissal of an antitrust class action against Qualcomm in the Northern District of California (a case that was brought in the wake of the FTC's ultimately unsuccessful enforcement action against the chipmaker), and at the time I already wrote that the ruins of that complaint "[would] hardly survive summary judgment." In February I agreed with Qualcomm's arguments for not reopening discovery, as did the court. After the SJ motion was filed in April, I "I guess[ed] Qualcomm's motion [would] succeed." And that is what has just happened.

On Tuesday, "[a]fter carefully considering the briefing and conducting oral argument on August 3, 2023," Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted Qualcomm's motion for summary judgment in its entirety:

In Re: Qualcomm Antitrust Litigation (case no. 17-md-02773-JSC, N.D. Cal.): Order re: Motion for Summary Judgment (Public Redacted Version)

This here is a legal victory that should put all of that U.S. antitrust litigation from the late 2010s to rest (short of a successful appeal, but chances are so slim that I guess an appeal will not even be brought). In economic terms it is, however, pretty unimportant compared to the fact that Apple, due to its failure to make its own iPhone-grade baseband processor, had to extend the chipset purchasing agreement with Qualcomm by another three years (2024-2026), which presumably means that Apple exercised an option to extend its standard-essential patent royalty payments as well. In the alternative (if Apple had been able to replace Qualcomm's chips), Apple might have tried to renegotiate those SEP licensing terms.

Things are going well for Qualcomm, and ultimately I believe the company will be able to deal with whatever impact the proposed EU SEP Regulation--in whatever form it may or may not be passed into law--will have.

As for Judge Corley's reasoning, the key elements are that there was really not even the slightest substance to claims that an agreement with Samsung had any market foreclosure impact. And even with respect to Apple, there was no credible pass-through theory (of elevated costs). The final part ("Conclusion") of the order granting the motion to dismiss essentially says that the class-action lawyers made their strategic choices. The initial choices (very much about "No License, No Chips" and allegedly supra-FRAND SEP royalties) didn't work out when the Ninth Circuit reversed the FTC's trial win. Later on, they still tried to get something out of this by suing Qualcomm over exclusive dealing. They presented a new expert report "though the Court had expressly declined to reopen expert discovery." Judge Corley declined to "open the flood gates to prolonged do-over litigation" as opposed to the speedy, efficient, and just resolution that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seek to ensure.

This outcome makes sense to me. As I noted further above, I predicted that the shifting-sands case wouldn't make it to trial.

Class actions can serve useful purposes. They can raise issues and promote justice. However, the vast majority of class actions I see in the technology industry are just opportunistic attempts by lawyers to extract settlements from large corporations. Qualcomm probably could have "settled" that class action at a far lower cost than that of its world-class defense. But once you do that, others will come and sue you as well. Qualcomm made the right choice and has now (again, absent an unlikely reversal on appeal) defeated this class action (or, more precisely, consolidated set of class actions).

The order to dismiss the Qualcomm class action(s) came one day after Judge Corley also made a decision (in a class-action matter that does not involve Qualcomm but also followed an FTC action) relating in part to yours truly's communications with Microsoft:

DeMartini et al. v. Microsoft (case no. 22-cv-08991-JSC, N.D. Cal.): Order Re: Discovery Dispute Joint Letter

Let me just refer you to an article about this odd sideshow of the Microsoft-ActivisionBlizzard merger case by Stephen Totilo of Axios Gaming.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Unified Patent Court's Helsinki Local Division denies preliminary injunction request over patent opted out despite previously filed (and still pending) national litigation

As I predicted, the Unified Patent Court's Helsinki Local Division today denied an application for provisional measures (the equivalent of a preliminary injunction request) in AIM Sports v. Supponor. The plaintiff had opted out the patent-in-suit from the UPC system despite previously filed national litigation (UK, Germany) that is still pending (before the appeals courts). The four-judge panel found that the opt-out had preclusive effect on the patent's assertion in the UPC, an effect that could not be undone by later seeking to reverse the opt-out.

I attended the first part of the hearing and quickly saw that the motion was a long shot. Apparently the national injunctions that are in force have not served to strengthen AIM's competitive position, particularly with a view to an ongoing tender (which will come to its conclusion in a matter of months) by European soccer body UEFA for digital stadium perimeter advertising technology. This is a case between direct rivals, making a licensing-based settlement unlikely.

The funny coincidence is that I am actually now on my way to a soccer match (Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AEK Athens, a Europa League group stage match). That's why I didn't stay in Helsinki until the decision was announced at 4:30 PM local time (2:30 PM UK Time, 3:30 PM Central European Time).

Let me show you the judges. From left to right: Judge Samuel Granata (Belgium), Presiding Judge Petri Rinkinen (Finland), Judge Mélanie Bessaud (France), and Technical Judge Éric Augarde (France):

If the case had surmounted this procedural hurdle and other jurisdictional challenges, it would have raised the interesting question of a so-called springboard injunction, which is an injunction that prohibits commercial activity that benefits from prior infringing acts (while injunctions are normally just a prospective remedy in every respect).

But the court would have had other ways of disposing of the motion. For instance, the urgency part looked weaker than in last week's Vienna case (where the question wasn't resolved either) and UPC Munich case (one such case resulted in a preliminary injunction on Tuesday while a parallel case is under advisement, with Presiding Judge Dr. Matthias Zigann having said in open court that the question of urgency could be decided either way).

It is easy to understand why the Vienna and Helsinki Local Divisions resolved the PI requests based on only a single issue in each case. It is the fastest way to adjudicate a PI motion, and especially the "smaller" local divisions may prefer to leave it to the likes of Munich to decide legal questions of first impression, which will ultimately be adjudicated by the Court of Appeal anyway.

AIM was represented by four law firms (Roschier, Powell Gilbert, Rospatt, and--only by video conference--Noerr). Supponor's lead counsel was Hogan Lovells' Dr. Henrik Lehment, whose English rhetoric was concise, easy to follow, and persuasive. During the limited part of the hearing that I attended, he was the only lawyer to speak for the defendant, but that is not meant to discount the potential contributions made by Gleiss Lutz' Dr. Matthias Sonntag and Hannes Snellman's Panu Siitonen.

It remains to be seen whether AIM will appeal. I don't think an appeal is likely to turn this case around, but many people--judges and practitioners alike--would appreciate the clarification that it could provide.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

BREAKING UPC NEWS: 10x.Genomics wins preliminary injunction against NanoString

The Unified Patent Court's Munich Local Division (Presiding Judge: Dr. Matthias Zigann) just announced a preliminary injunction in 10x Genomics v. NanoString. That is the case that was heard two weeks ago. The parallel case heard today raises some new questions, particularly also concerning urgency, with a decision scheduled for October 10.

I may add more detail later. For now I just wanted to share the information at the earliest opportunity. This is the first announcement of a UPC injunction in open court. In Vienna last week, an announcement was also made, but an injunction was not granted.

An appeal to the UPC's Court of Appeal in Luxembourg (Presiding Judge: Dr. Klaus Grabinski) pretty much a given.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Avanci 5G doubles number of licensees, quadruples number of licensed brands as BMW signs up: Volkswagen/Audi next?

The Avanci 5G automotive standard-essential patent (SEP) pool revealed Mercedes-Benz as its first licensee last month. Today the licensing program announced that BMW has joined as well, which takes the number of licensed brands from one to four: Mercedes, BMW, MINI, and Rolls-Royce. Today's press release also indicates that the number of licensors has increased from 58 to 61.

By now, almost the entire automotive industry has an Avanci 4G license. But back in 2017, BMW became Avanci's first 4G licensee. It took a while for that pool to be widely adopted. Things appear to be going significantly faster with Avanci 5G now.

In retrospect, BMW's decision made business sense unless one believes in the illegal concept of group boycott: Mercedes (then named Daimler) and Volkswagen did not save money by opposing the Avanci model. They ended up choosing the pool license over bilateral licensing negotiations and disputes, but unlike BMW they incurred litigation expenses (in Volkswagen's case, the dispute was short-lived and due to the fact they licensed only 3G patents for most of the cars the group makes). BMW saved money, time, and energy. They stayed above the fray.

While I have not yet seen a German SEP infringement case targeting BMW, they are clearly not a soft target for non-SEP holders. Typically represented by Bardehle Pagenberg's Professor Tilman Mueller-Stoy ("Müller-Stoy in German), BMW is known to defend itself vigorously against patent infringement assertions, though most of the time the outcome is, obviously, a license agreement. If such a company takes a license without litigation, it must have concluded that the licensed patents are valuable.

Germany's remaining three automotive brands are Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche, all of which belong to Volkswagen Group. Audi and Porsche clearly compete in some of the same market segments as BMW and Mercedes. It would make a lot of sense for VW to join the pool now. Sooner or later, some 5G SEP holders will start to enforce their rights against unwilling licensees. Just like German judges pressed Mercedes (then named Daimler) to explain why a license that had been taken by their closest (and equally German) competitors: BMW and Audi. I doubt that Audi would want to have to justify--particularly in front of the same judges who heard Nokia v. Daimler--a refusal to take a license that Mercedes and BMW deem to make economic sense.

Just like actions speak louder than words, real-world license deals are way more meaningful than spin doctoring and political propaganda. Mercedes-Benz told the EU that the proposed SEP regulation (or something even more lopsided) was badly needed, yet became the first Avanci 5G licensee because they deemed it prudent. Similarly, BMW Group is now an early adopter of the Avanci 5G license, yet it is a member of the Fair Standards Alliance and of certain automotive industry organizations that take similar positions.

There's nothing difficult to understand: every company would like to bring any cost category--here, cellular SEP license fees--down, even if such costs are already fair and reasonable. Automakers are no different. That is unrelated to the merits of Avanci providing a one-stop solution that Mercedes and BMW have twice (4G and now 5G) considered superior over dozens and dozens of bilateral deals. And opportunism by some car makers certainly doesn't make the EU proposal any less misguided. Case in point, a single Nokia v. OPPO decision in Sweden (which went in the defendant's favor) showcases at least four of the countless flaws of that bill.

Accurate and holistic analysis needs to look at what those companies say and what they do. License deals that are concluded in the absence of litigation--and presumably even without the slightest threat of litigation other than the fact that any infringement may sooner or later become the subject of enforcement action.

Europe's and particularly Germany's automotive industry is facing undeniably large problems. Cellular SEP licensing is none of them, though. Even if those costs were reduced through political intervention (which I don't see happening, though it is some people's agenda), that wouldn't help to address any of the fundamental challenges facing the European auto sector, particularly because there's no comparative advantage for companies selling cars in a given target market in which certain patents must be licensed.

Today's Avanci-BMW announcement is good news for those who argue that the market can and will find solutions, as are other recent license deals such as Huawei's recent agreement with Xiaomi.

Patent pools exist to simplify licensing--which must have been the reason why BMW entered into one agreement rather than 60+ bilateral deals--while some EU officials and politicians are trying to complicate the process and mistakenly view pools as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Four of numerous flaws of proposed EU SEP Regulation are illustrated by OPPO's Swedish victory over Nokia: binary register won't reflect non-binary world, and jurisdictional differences matter

This is a follow-up to my Thursday post on a Nokia v. OPPO decision by the Swedish Patent and Market Court that held a pair of declared-essential patents (from the same family) invalid, but also an addition to my commentary (since March) on the unbelievable fundamental flaws of the proposed EU regulation on standard-essential patents (EU SEP Regulation).

The two SEPs in question were deemed invalid by the Swedish court, which was a major win for OPPO, but Nokia had obtained and enforced a German injunction over them. Due to Germany's bifurcation system, the infringement ruling came down prior to the resolution of a parallel nullity action. Nokia had also successfully asserted those patents against OPPO in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, two jurisdictions where a full invalidity defense is available. Nevertheless, the four-judge panel in Sweden made its own decision and begged to differ from their colleagues in a couple of other countries.

Let's briefly look at this from the EU SEP Reg angle--actually, from four angles related to that ill-conceived legislative proposal:

  1. If the EU SEP Reg was already in force, and if the envisaged SEP Register had been implemented, those two patents would have to be removed from the register if Nokia made a request pursuant to Art. 25(1)(b): "invalidation of the patent by a competent authority" (which the Swedish Patent & Market Court undoubtedly is).

    The proposal does not say anything about how to resolve conflicting decisions from different jurisdictions.

    As a result, Nokia would be allowed to enforce those patents without having to comply with any of the provisions of the EU SEP Reg. Simply put, those patents would be treated as a non-SEPs with a view to the regulation, though national courts might nonetheless apply Huawei v. ZTE. The patent holder might consider that flexibility gain to far outweigh the negative effect of a lower essentiality rate and reduced number of declared-essential patents. Here, with Nokia having a huge SEP portfolio, the removal of a couple of patents from the database wouldn't adversely impact the overall valuation of the relevant portfolio.

  2. The fact that the Swedish decision differs from the ones in the UK and the Netherlands, and from the probability assessment of the Mannheim Regional Court, doesn't make it necessarily wrong. But it clearly cannot be ruled out that a Swedish appeals court might overrule the Patent and Market Court, given that some other judges have also deemed those patents valid. I personally believe the Swedish decision is very well-reasoned and other jurisdictions should be persuaded by it, but you don't know until they have all decided. Assuming only for the sake of the argument that the decision was reversed, the EU SEP Reg--based on the current proposal--would not even have a mechanism in place for putting those two patents back.

  3. When criticizing the EU SEP Reg, I've said repeatedly that the outcome of essentiality checks can depend on what jurisdiction's claim construction and other legal standards are applied. The proposal does not specify that, and there is no uniform standard across the EU. The Swedish decision was based on validity, and an invalid patent is by definition non-essential. What happened here can also happen in connection with an infringement analysis. The starting point is always claim construction. And after that one, there are other steps that can differ between countries.

    It doesn't make sense to assume that a patent is essential or not. It's not binary. It may be essential in some jurisdictions and non-essential in others.

    While I agree with the criticism voiced by one of the researchers commissioned by the EC's Directorate-General for the Internal Market, Dr. Justus Baron, of the aggregate royalty determination part of the proposal, Dr. Baron and I have expressed different views on whether jurisdictional differences make a practical difference for the envisioned essentiality checks of samples of patents. The fact that a Swedish court invalidated two SEPs deemed valid in a couple of other European jurisdictions supports my view that jurisdictional differences pose a confidence problem: you need even larger samples then, and even the assessment of all patents of a given portfolio may be unacceptably unreliable if each European patent is analyzed under only one jurisdiction's standard while in litigation you may get one outcome in the Netherlands and another in Sweden.

  4. At a recent SEP conference in Warsaw, Bardehle Pagenberg's Professor Tilman Mueller-Stoy ("Müller-Stoy" in German) said something I also mentioned in the post I just linked to: essentiality determinations are not too meaningful if validity isn't analyzed as well. The Swedish Nokia v. OPPO situation is now the latest example.

An EU proposal that treats a dynamic environment as static and a non-binary world as binary is not going to do any good. It's going to be a waste. The courts of law may in the end not be persuaded that the EU's essentiality checks, essentiality ratios, aggregate royalty rates, and bilateral FRAND determinations are relevant or helpful. If something flies in the face of what the real experts (as opposed to those who drafted the proposal) know, the actual decision makers may mimimize the impact of the EU SEP Reg, just like the 2021 patent injunction "reform" in Germany has made no real-world impact.

New FTC initiative and very recent D.C. Circuit dismissal of FTC antitrust case relate to use of patents in connection with Abbreviated New Drug Applications

On Tuesday (September 19), the Munich Local Division of the Unified Patent Court (UPC) intends to adjudge a preliminary injunction request in a life sciences case. I will do my best to share the news quickly. A preliminary injunction looms large according to what various observers (including specialized newsletters) say. We will see, but only one thing would really surprise me: if the antitrust-based affirmative defense in that case succeeded. While the UPC is a European court, defendant NanoString's lawyers argue that their client may prevail on a U.S. antitrust claim against patent holder 10x Genomics. Under U.S. law, those seeking to enforce antitrust law against patent holders exercising their monopoly rights face a very high hurdle to say the least.

From the West Coast (Qualcomm v. FTC, 9th Cir., 2020) to Texas (Continental v. Avanci et al., 5th Cir., 2022) to the East Coast (FTC v. Endo Pharmaceuticals, D.C. Cir., 2023), federal appeals courts have been rather clear in recent years that antitrust law does not trump patent law. Patents are monopolies, but there is a strong presumption that they are lawful monopolies. It is not 100% inconceivable that a patent holder may run afoul of U.S. competition rules. That, however, hasn't been the outcome in any recent case. It wasn't even a close call in any of those recent cases.

In this post I want to be nonjudgmental and simply analyze the state of affairs, which some may consider desirable while others may have different policy views. What some may deem judgmental (but is not intended as such) is my take that on the bottom line U.S. appeals courts effectively put patent law above antitrust law. They say things that suggest both are on equal footing. But in practice, if the monopoly rights conferred by patents on their holders are treated with enormous deference so that traditional anti-monopoly rules hardly ever apply, there isn't much of an opportunity for public or private antitrust enforcement. Whether for better or for worse is in the eye of the beholder.

Let's take a quick look at two very recent developments, both of which happen to involve the concept of Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDA), a fast-track approval process for generic drugs.

August 25, 2023 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in FTC v. Endo (appeal no. 22-5137)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed the D.C. District Court's dismissal of an FTC case over an exclusive license agreement between Endo Pharmaceuticals (represented by a Dechert team led by George Gordon) and Impax Laboratories (represented by a Kirkland & Ellis team led by Jay Lefkowitz).

The FTC had brought the case based on the observation that prices for a certain category of drugs (and I'm not going to take a position on opioids here as the focus is on the intersection of patent and antitrust law) increased after a patent holder (Endo) exited the market and granted someone (Impax) an exclusive patent license. Price hikes like that are often indicative of consumer harm. But in this case, both the district court and the appeals courts determined that a single patentee (as opposed to a research consortium) is free to grant an exclusive license to a licensee, even if it means that there will be only one market actor left.

There had been a patent infringement dispute between the two companies, provoked by an ANDA that disputed that the relevant Endo patents were valid and infringed. That one was settled in 2017 in the way that gave rise to the FTC's enforcement action.

The FTC tried to describe the Endo-Impax deal as very similar to an exclusive license agreement that the Supreme Court deemed an illegal noncompete contract in Palmer v. BRG of Georgia (1990). In footnote 1, the D.C. Circuit explains why the two cases are distinguishable:

"[In Palmer] an exclusive licensing agreement was a pretext for a noncompete agreement between two competitors, because the parties in Palmer did not require one another’s intellectual property to participate in the market for bar preparation courses. Here, by contrast, Impax’s ability to compete was completely contingent on the clarity of its license to use Endo’s patents, and the complaint itself alleges that Endo surrendered the right to press its suit against Impax through the 2017 Agreement."

Palmer was not about patents. The material in question was presumably protected by copyright, but copyright law is narrow and the Supreme Court took issue with the fact that the net effect was horizontal geographic market division.

Therefore, Palmer is of limited help if we want to find out where patent license agreements might run afoul of the antitrust laws. There could be a hypothetical case where company A licenses to company B a patent (or patent portfolio) P that it doesn't really need to license to make a certain product or offer a service, but the license agreement contains clauses that amount to geographic market division.

The FTC couldn't make that showing. The closest argument to the license being pretextual was that the settlement precluded the licensee from challenging the patents in question, which is, however, a standard term of patent license agreements as the licensing practitioners among you can confirm. Only because a party is contractually precluded from challenging certain patents doesn't mean such challenges would necessarily have succeeded. Even without such a contractual clause, someone who has taken a license often doesn't even want to challenge the licensed patents as the main (or only) beneficiaries would be unlicensed competitors. And it doesn't prevent any third party from challenging those patent rights in an effort to compete in the relevant market.

The D.C. Circuit provides some high-level guidance:

"In a future case, the Commission is free to plead that a licensing agreement results in unjustifiable competitive harms, so long as it explains how those harms exceed what the Patent Act and settled precedent permit, which it has failed to do here."

So the starting point of any U.S. antitrust analysis of an exclusive license agreement will be that "both the Supreme Court and the Patent Act have blessed [such contracts] as lawful," and there must be something more--in fact, something egregious--than exclusivity to establish an antitrust violation. A pretextual license such as in Palmer (where the relevant price, by the way, increased from $150 to $400 as a result of horizontal geographic market division) is presumably not the only such scenario, but for now there's no other example of an exclusive IP license being anticompetitive. It would take "allegations establishing that [an agreement] created anticompetitive effects greater than that authorized by settled law and precedent" that is favorable to exclusive IP licenses.

September 14 policy statement by the FTC on brand pharmaceutical manufacturers' improper listing of patents in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) 'Orange Book'

On Thursday, the FTC issued a policy statement (PDF), press release, and an additional statement by Chair Lina Khan (PDF) concerning "improper" patent listings in the FDA's Orange Book.

The idea of the fast-track approval process called ANDA is that generic drugs should be approved quickly, but not so quickly that a patent holder cannot enforce its rights. That's why there is an automatic 30-month stay of approval in the event of patent litigation by the manufacturer of the original product. I find the term "brand drug manufacturer" a bit misleading as there are generics companies with fairly well-known brands, too.

The FTC believes to have identified a rampant form of abuse in the form of drug makers including patents in the FDA's Orange Book that aren't really needed. This is somewhat comparable to an overdeclaration of allegedly essential patents in connection with industry standards, but with the effect that the approval of competing products can be delayed (while standard-essential patent owners can only sue after an implementer has released an unlicensed product).

What lends the FTC initiative significant credence is that the FDA supports the new statement, effectively making it an inter-agency initiative.

Unlike in FTC v. Endo, which involved Sherman Act Section 1 and 2 claims, the FTC intends to tackle such improper listings as unfair methods of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act. In any event, the D.C. Circuit's FTC v. Endo decision does say that anticompetitive behavior that goes beyond what is lawful under patent law can be an antitrust violation.

Where I see a practical challenge for the FTC is that any overdeclarations would have to be shown to have been made in bad faith. However, patent law is sufficiently subjective (for example, a fairly high percentage of claim constructions are overturned on appeal) that drug makers will often be able to argue that even though their position on the inevitability of an infringement of a certain patent by a type of drug may have been wrong, it wasn't wholly unreasonable in the first place. That is, for example, what defendants sometimes argue in order to escape willfulness enhancements of damages verdicts. The FTC says that patents are sometimes listed in the FDA's Orange Book even though their claims just don't read on the drug in question--but what will the courts of law say in a given case?

The FTC's policy statement may now dissuade drug makers from adding patents to the FDA's Orange Book that they'd have listed before. In that case, the FTC may achieve a positive effect without having to litigate. But if it does have to go to court, those cases threaten to become rather difficult to decide--and possibly even more difficult to win.