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?