Tuesday, January 3, 2023

InterDigital announces arbitration agreement with Samsung, renewal with Panasonic, video codec license deal with LG

This morning, publicly-traded patent licensing firm InterDigital (NASDAQ:IDCC) announced license agreements with three major East Asian companies:

  • The most important one of those press releases involves consumer electronics giant Samsung--a company whose licensing department is known to be tough, but definitely effective. It was no secret that the previous license agreement was set to expire on December 31. Ten years ago, InterDigital brought infringement lawsuits against Samsung. This time around, it's a renewal with final terms to be decided by binding arbitration. InterDigital CEO Liren Chen commented on this suboptimal but apparently acceptable solution:

    "While we always prefer to conclude our license agreements through amicable good faith negotiation, independent binding arbitration provides an effective mechanism for resolving licensing disputes. I welcome Samsung’s willingness to enter into a new license with us and their commitment to work through the remaining issues in arbitration."

    An InterDigital filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission is more specific, though it still doesn't answer my most important questions:

    "On January 1, 2023, InterDigital, Inc. (the 'Company') and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. ('Samsung') agreed to have a panel of arbitrators establish the royalties to be paid by Samsung for a worldwide license to certain of the Company’s patents from and after January 1, 2023, as well as any other terms to a patent license agreement on which the parties are unable to agree. The determination by the panel will be in the form of a patent license agreement and will be final, binding and non-appealable, subject to certain limited exceptions. The parties have agreed to conduct the arbitration in a diligent manner. The Company expects the arbitration to conclude within approximately 18 months.

    "Each of the parties has also agreed not to initiate certain claims against the other party during the arbitration. Any licenses under our joint licensing program with Sony relating to digital televisions and standalone computer display monitors will not be included in the scope of the arbitration."

    Arbitration is inherently opaque. We'll likely never find out what parameters the parties gave the arbitrators. What we may be able to deduce from InterDigital's quarterly financial reports is whether Samsung continues to make some payments in the meantime. It's possible that the parties agreed on a certain amount that Samsung will pay per quarter while still reserving its rights to take the position in arbitration that the royalty rate should actually be lower.

    Ten years ago, Samsung also agreed with Nokia on arbitration to determine the royalty amount, though it was unclear what subset of patents was subject to arbitration. Third parties who believe to know the terms of the deal mostly suspect that the arbitration result fell short of Nokia's expectations--but again, this depends on the parameters, which can favor one side or the other, or provide a level playing field.

    At some point some news of a Nokia-Samsung renewal or, failing that, infringement litigation should also surface, but I don't know when that agreement expires.

  • Panasonic renewed its DTV and HEVC patent licenses with InterDigital. Unlike the scope of the InterDigital-Samsung arbitration, the Panasonic deals also involve some Sony patents, as InterDigital's Chief Licensing Officer Eeva Hakoranta said that the DTV deal was signed under a "joint digital TV licensing program which continues to deliver considerable value to InterDigital, [its] partner Sony, and to [its] licensees."

  • The announcement of InterDigital's HEVC and VVC video codec patent license agreements with LG Electronics sounds like a new license (covering LG's TVs and PCs) rather than a renewal, but this may be due to the fact that the Korean company exited the smartphone business, which according to a February 2018 press release had a license to InterDigital's patents. It could be that the only reason the new deal is not called a "renewal" is that it no longer involves cellular SEPs.

In the summer, InterDigital announced a license agreement with Amazon, and in early October a renewal (by seven years) of its license deal with Apple. InterDigital is, however, embroiled in litigation with a couple of companies. The more important one of them is OPPO, which fights hard when sued but prefers to reach license agreements on reasonable terms, such as very recently with Huawei. InterDigital is now also waiting for a UK court ruling in its SEP dispute with Lenovo.