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InterDigital v Xiaomi, District Court (Landgericht) Munich I

2021年02月25日 - 案号: 7 O 14276/20

http://caselaw.4ipcouncil.com/cn/german-court-decisions/lg-munich-district-court/interdigital-v-xiaomi-district-court-landgericht-munich-i

A. Facts

The claimants are two US-based companies that are part of InterDigital Group (InterDigital). InterDigital Group holds a portfolio of patents declared as (potentially) essential, to various wireless telecommunications standards (standard essential patents, or SEPs) developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). The claimants hold German SEPs which are subject to a commitment to be made accessible to standard users on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions, in accordance with the ETSI IPR Policy.

The defendants are four companies belonging to the Xiaomi group that has its headquarters in China (Xiaomi). Xiaomi produces and sells -among other products- smartphones that comply with ETSI standards worldwide.

On 9 June 2020, Xiaomi filed an action against InterDigital before the Intermediate People’s Court in Wuhan, China (Wuhan Court). In its complaint, Xiaomi asked the Wuhan Court to determine specific rates or a range of rates for the licensing of InterDigital’s worldwide 3G/UMTS and 4G/LTE SEP portfolio (Chinese main proceedings). On 28 July 2020, Xiaomi, for the first time, informed InterDigital by telephone that it had filed a case in China. However, the Xiaomi representative did not provide any details regarding the filing.

On the 29 July 2020, InterDigital filed an infringement action against Xiaomi before the High Court of Delhi, India (Delhi Court) with a request for injunctive relief (Indian proceedings). In addition, InterDigital requested a preliminary cease-and-desist order against Xiaomi.

On 4 August 2020, Xiaomi, applied for an anti-suit injunction (ASI) before the Wuhan Court.

On 23 September 2020, the Wuhan Court issued its ASI order, ordering InterDigital to withdraw or suspend the actions in the pending Indian proceedings (Wuhan ASI). InterDigital was also ordered to refrain from filing infringement actions on its 3G and 4G SEPs for (1) permanent and/or temporary injunctions or (2) FRAND rate determinations against Xiaomi in any country of the world during the pendency of the Chinese main proceedings. The Wuhan Court ordered a fine amounting to RMB 1,000,000 per day in case of violation of the above order. InterDigital was advised of the issued ASI for the first time when the Wuhan court sent an email to several InterDigital email addresses on 25 September 2020.

On 29 September 2020, InterDigital filed an action for an anti-anti-suit injunction (AASI) before the Delhi Court. On 9 October 2020, the Delhi Court issued an AASI, restraining Xiaomi from enforcing the Wuhan ASI (Delhi AASI).

On 30 October 2020, InterDigital filed a motion for an AASI before the District Court of Munich I (Munich District Court or Court) as well.

On 9 November 2020, the Munich District Court issued an AASI ordering Xiaomi to refrain from pursuing the Wuhan ASI or take further (court and/or administrative) measures against InterDigital, intended to directly or indirectly prevent InterDigital from prosecuting infringement proceedings based on its SEPs in Germany (Munich AASI). Each violation of the Munich AASI order triggers a fine amounting up to EUR 250,000 or detention up to six months.

On 22 December 2020, Xiaomi filed an appeal of the Munich AASI and also requested a stay of the enforcement of this order. On 24 January 2021, the Munich District Court rejected the request for a stay of the enforcement of the AASI.

With the present judgment dated 25 February 2021, the Munich District Court dismissed Xiaomi’s appeal on the merits and confirmed the Munich AASI. [1] (cited by www.gesetze-bayern.de/Content/Document/Y-300-Z-BECKRS-B-2021-N-3995?hl=true)
 

B. Court’s reasoning

The Munich District Court held that InterDigital had a claim for preliminary injunction and that sufficient grounds for issuing an AASI were given. [2]
 

Claim for preliminary injunction

The Court explained that the filing, prosecution and enforcement of an ASI in China with the goal to prevent the assertion of claims for injunctive relief against patent infringement in Germany impairs the ‘property-like legal position’ of the patent holder and constitutes a tortious act (in terms of Section 823 para. 1 of the German Civil Code). [3] The same is true with respect to court orders, which restrain a party from initiating AASI-proceedings in Germany (so-called ‘anti-anti-anti-suit injunctions’, or AAASI). [3]

In the eyes of the Munich District Court, the Wuhan ASI had the aforementioned effect. According to its wording and reasoning, the Wuhan ASI attempted to have a global reach and would also have impacted those InterDigital Group entities holding German SEPs that were involved in the present proceedings. [4] The fact that these companies did not directly face fines or other sanctions imposed by the Wuhan Court, did not change the fact that the Wuhan ASI tried to impair their legal position: These measures threatened other affiliated companies within InterDigital Group and, thus, created a coercive situation in an attempt to limit the freedom of the companies that actually hold German SEPs to act for their protection of their rights. [4]

In addition, the Court expressed the view that InterDigital was in a position to invoke the right for self-defence against the Wuhan ASI. [3] Section 227 of the German Civil Code provides that any action, which is necessary for averting a present illicit attack, is not unlawful.

 

Grounds for preliminary injunction

Furthermore, the Munich District Court found that there was sufficient justification for ordering interim measures. [5]

First, it could not be requested from InterDigital to defend itself against the Wuhan ASI in regular (main) court proceedings. [6] Given that injunctions are available only for the limited lifetime of a patent, regular proceedings against an ASI would not sufficiently protect patent holders’ rights; the latter would be, effectively, deprived of the right to injunctive relief for a considerable period of time, at least until the enforcement of the first instance decision of the German court. [7] This limitation would occur irrespective of the fact that a foreign ASI violates public order (ordre public) and, thus, does not have any legal effect in Germany. [6] The Court repeated that sanctions imposed or threatened in foreign jurisdictions can place the patent holder under pressure and stand in the way of effective patent enforcement in Germany. [6] This applies equally, when a foreign court has granted an AAASI, preventing a party to seek for protective measures in the form of a AASI in Germany, as was the case with the order of the Wuhan Court. [8]

Second, the Munich District Court held that the urgency required for interim measures was given. [9] Inter-digital had filed the request for an AASI in a timely fashion. [10] As a rule, Munich courts require that requests for preliminary injunctions concerning patents must be filed within a deadline of one-month of knowledge of the act. [11] The Munich District Court suggested that this deadline, basically, also applies to AASIs (refraining, however, from a final assessment of this question). [12]

In case that an AASI is directed against an ASI already granted by a foreign court (risk of repetition), the respective request should be filed within a month after the patent holder obtained ‘secure knowledge’ of the foreign court order, irrespective of whether formal service took place or not. [13] For assuming ‘secure knowledge’, it can be required that the patent holder gets access to the ASI request as well as the evidence used in the foreign proceedings, especially when the court order itself does not contain clear information about the parties, the content and the legal grounds of the order. [14]

If a request for an AASI is filed before a foreign ASI has been issued, that is when only a ‘risk of first infringement’ of a violation of SEP holder’s ‘property-like’ rights exists, the one-month deadline begins at the moment in time, in which the patent holder gains ‘secure knowledge’ of the filing of an ASI request before the foreign court or of the existing risk of such measures, which is especially materialized, when the implementer threatens with respective action. [15] In this context, the Court clarified that filing early countermeasures before a grant of an ASI is only an option; patent holders are, basically, free to wait for the outcome of foreign ASI proceedings, before filing a request for an AASI. [15]

Having said that, the Munich District Court outlined that it will, as a rule, assume that a required risk of a first infringement’, which could result in an AASI, is present, if the one of the following circumstances occur:

  • The implementer has threatened to file a request for an ASI;
  • The implementer has filed a request for an ASI;
  • The implementer has filed a (regular) action for the grant of a licence or the determination of reason-able global licensing rates in a jurisdiction, in which ASIs can, in principle, be granted;
  • The implementer has already threatened an ASI or filed a respective request against other patent holders and the party filing an AASI in Germany has no indication that the implementer will refrain from such actions against it in the future;
  • The implementer failed to declare in text form within a short deadline set by the patent holder (e.g. with the first notification of infringement) that it will not file a request for an ASI. [16]
ASI and implementer’s willingness to obtain a licence

The Munich District Court further made clear that an implementer who threatens an ASI or files a respective request, can, as a rule, not be treated as a ‘willing licensee’ within the meaning of the Huawei v ZTE ruling (Huawei v ZTE) [17] of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and the recent case-law of the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) in the Sisvel v Haier [18] cases. [19] According to the Court, an implementer truly willing to obtain a FRAND-licence would regularly refrain from actions impairing SEP holder’s ‘property-like’ rights even further than the past and ongoing acts of patent infringement (such as the filing of a request for an ASI). [20]

Looking particularly at the negotiation framework established in Huawei v ZTE, the Munich District Court noted that balanced negotiations on an equal footing -as envisioned by the CJEU- can only be ensured if the parties have equal access to legal remedies: The implementer’s ability to attack patent validity should be counterbalanced by the patent holder’s ability to assert its patent rights before court. [21] This is no longer the case when the judicial assertion of claims against patent infringement is precluded based on an ASI. [21] In this context, the Court noted that an ASI directly violates the SEP holders’ right to have access to courts which is established in both European law (Article 47 para. 1 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and German constitutional law. [21]

Furthermore, the Munich District Court expressed the view that an implementer who has been notified about the infringement of SEPs can be required not only to adequately demonstrate willingness to obtain a FRAND-licence, but also to declare that it will not file a request for an ASI against the patent holder. [20] The Court explained that, otherwise, the negotiation process set forth by Huawei v ZTE could not be followed. [22] In particular, the SEP holder could no longer be obliged to notify the implementer about the infringement before filing a court action. [22] By making a notification of infringement, the patent holder exposes itself to an ASI. If an ASI is granted, then the patent holder will in many cases be de facto prevented from exercising its right to injunctive relief even towards implementers unwilling to take a licence. [23] According to the Court, this result conflicts with the so-called EU IPR Enforcement-Directive (Articles 9-11) [24] as well as the case law of the CJEU. [25]

The Court also added that SEP holders cannot be expected to pre-emptively prepare countermeasures against potential future ASIs [20] . Even when SEP holders seek global portfolio licences, preparing the filing of AASIs in many different jurisdictions would lead to disproportionate high costs at a point in time, in which neither the risk nor the impact of an ASI could be reliably assessed. [20]
 

Balance of interests

After weighing the interests of the parties against each other, the Munich District Court held that an AASI was justified. [26]

On the one hand, the Court recognized that InterDigital had an interest to be granted the requested AASI. Although the Wuhan ASI violated public order and could not be enforced in Germany, InterDigital had an interest to limit the reach of the Chinese order as far as German SEPs are concerned; otherwise, the threat of sanctions that could be imposed in China would de facto prevent InterDigital from enforcing its patent rights in Germany for an unforeseeable period of time. [27]

On the other hand, the Court highlighted that a German AASI would not impair the rights of Xiaomi. [28] The AASI would only oblige Xiaomi to withdraw the Wuhan ASI and, therefore, have no impact on the Chinese main proceedings. [28] The Chinese main proceedings would also not be impaired, in case that InterDigital filed infringement proceedings against Xiaomi in Germany, following the grant of an AASI. The Munich District Court expects that German infringement proceedings would not revolve around the same question raised in the Chinese proceedings, that is the determination of the global rate for InterDigital’s SEP portfolio. [28] On the contrary, German infringement courts would probably not examine the amount of an adequate global licensing rate, because it is very unlikely that they would examine a FRAND defence raised by Xiaomi on the merits. [28] The Court reasoned that the very act of requesting an ASI, or threatening to do so, is evidence that the implementer is an unwilling licensee, such that a FRAND defence raised by Xiaomi in German infringement proceedings would hardly have any prospects of success. [28]

In addition, the Court took the view that Xiaomi’s interest to avoid infringement trials in Germany during the pendency of the Chinese main proceedings was not worthy of protection. [29] Xiaomi did neither constantly monitor the IPR landscape, as it is obliged to, nor obtain necessary licences before starting production. [29] What is more, Xiaomi refused to do so for more than seven years, such that InterDigital can no longer be expected to further wait to assert its rights. [29]

 

C. Other issues

The Munich District Court also confirmed that InterDigital had a legitimate interest in legal remedies. [30] Under German law, this is a prerequisite for any court action and is, basically, given, when the claims asserted by the claimant have not been fulfilled by the defendant yet. [31] The fact that InterDigital could defend itself against the ASI also in so-called ‘reconsideration proceedings’ before Chinese courts did not remove InterDigital’s legitimate interest that its case is heard by German courts. [32] The Court held that such proceedings could not sufficiently protect InterDigital’s ‘property-like’ rights in Germany, especially since a reliable assessment of the prospects of success of such legal remedy is very challenging. [32]

Furthermore, the Court confirmed that the pendency of the Chinese and Indian proceedings did not prevent German courts from hearing the case in question (no lis pendens). [33]

Finally, the Court also found that the Munich AASI had been served to Xiaomi within the relevant deadline, which under German law is a prerequisite for such orders to remain in force. [34]

  • [1] InterDigital v Xiaomi, District Court (Landgericht) Munich I, judgment dated 25 February 2021, Case-No. 7 O 14276/20.
  • [2] Ibid, para. 75.
  • [3] Ibid, para. 120.
  • [4] Ibid, para. 121.
  • [5] Ibid, para. 129.
  • [6] Ibid, para. 130.
  • [7] Ibid, para. 130. The Munich District Court highlighted that the right to injunctive relief is the ‘essential feature’ of exclusionary rights, such as patent rights, and the ‘sharpest weapon’ against infringement. Patents would be ‘worthless’, if the patent holder would be denied the possibility to enforce its rights by way of court proceedings.
  • [8] Ibid, para. 131.
  • [9] Ibid, para. 132.
  • [10] Ibid, para. 132 as well as paras. 151 et seqq.
  • [11] Ibid, para. 133.
  • [12] Ibid, paras. 134-135.
  • [13] Ibid, para. 134.
  • [14] Ibid. para. 136.
  • [15] Ibid, para. 138.
  • [16] Ibid, para. 142.
  • [17] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the EU, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13.
  • [18] Sisvel v Haier I, Bundesgerichtshof, judgment dated 5 May 2020, Case No. KZR 36/17 and Sisvel v Haier II, Bundesgerichtshof, judgment dated 24 November 2020, Case No. KZR 35/17.
  • [19] InterDigital v Xiaomi, District Court (Landgericht) Munich I, judgment dated 25 February 2021, Case-No. 7 O 14276/20, para. 146.
  • [20] Ibid, para. 146.
  • [21] Ibid. para. 148.
  • [22] Ibid, para. 147.
  • [23] Ibid, para. 149.
  • [24] Directive 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights (OJ L 157, 30.4.2004).
  • [25] InterDigital v Xiaomi, District Court (Landgericht) Munich I, judgment dated 25 February 2021, Case-No. 7 O 14276/20, para. 149.
  • [26] Ibid, para. 168.
  • [27] Ibid, para. 169.
  • [28] Ibid, para. 170.
  • [29] Ibid, para. 173.
  • [30] Ibid, para. 75.
  • [31] Ibid, para. 107.
  • [32] Ibid, para. 108.
  • [33] Ibid, paras. 75 and 109.
  • [34] Ibid, para. 75 and paras. 80-106.