Case Law post CJEU ruling Huawei v ZTE

Archos v. Philips, Rechtbank Den Haag

8 February 2017 - Case No. C/09/505587 / HA ZA 16-206 (ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2017:1025)

http://caselaw.4ipcouncil.com/dutch-court-decisions/archos-v-philips-rechtbank-den-haag

  1. Facts
    Defendant (Koninklijke Philips N.V.) is the proprietor of a number of patents declared essential to ETSI’s UMTS (3G) and LTE (4G) standards. Defendant made FRAND commitments towards ETSI on 15 January 1998 and 26 November 2009. Claimant (Archos S.A.) markets mobile devices which are alleged to infringe upon Defendant’s patents.
    By letter of 5 June 2014, Defendant brought her UMTS and LTE patent portfolio and her licensing program to the attention of Claimant. In this letter, Defendant made clear that Claimant was infringing her patents by marketing products incorporating the UMTS and LTE standards and explained the possibility of obtaining a FRAND license. On 15 September 2014, a meeting took place to inform Claimant of Defendant’s patent portfolio and to discuss the licensing offer. In another meeting on 25 November 2014, Claimant suggested Defendant to grant her a royalty-free license to all of Defendant’s patents (i.e. not only to the UMTS/LTE patents but also to other patents related to so-called ‘Portable Features’) in exchange for the transfer of certain patents of Claimant to Defendant. Defendant informed Claimant by email of 23 December 2014 that it was not interested in Claimant’s patents because it considered them to represent ‘relatively low value’.
    By letter of 28 July 2015 Defendant sent Claimant an updated list of UMTS/LTE patents as well as a draft licensing agreement in which she confirmed her earlier licensing offer. The proposed royalty amounted to $ 0.75 per product containing UMTS and/or LTE functionality. For products already sold, a royalty of $ 1 would need to be paid. At a next meeting on 3 September 2015, it became clear that Claimant did not wish to obtain the license offered. On behalf of Claimant, it was made clear during the meeting that Defendant would have to take legal action if she wished to obtain a license fee. In October 2015, Defendant started proceedings before the Rechtbank Den Haag for infringement of her European Patents EP 1 440 525, EP 1 685 659 and EP 1 623 511.
    By letter of 12 January 2016, Claimant made a written counter offer of 0.071% of her net revenue from products incorporating the UMTS and/or LTE standards. For a net sale price per product of € 100, the offered royalty would amount to 7 eurocent per product.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    Claimant asked the court to declare that Defendant’s licensing offer of 28 July 2015 is not FRAND and to declare that a royalty fee of € 0.007 for every product sold by Claimant incorporating the UMTS standard and a royalty fee of € 0.020 for every product sold by Claimant incorporating the UMTS and LTE standards is FRAND. In addition, Claimant asked the court to rule that its own licensing offer of 12 January 2016 is higher than what a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory royalty fee would require.
    1. Market power and notice of infringement
      The court left open whether the SEPs conferred market power to Defendant since it did, in any case, find no abuse of such potential market power. The court argued that it is generally accepted and to be inferred from the system laid down in the Huawei/ZTE judgment that a FRAND license has a certain bandwidth. After all, the Huawei/ZTE judgment contemplates that the SEP holder makes a FRAND offer first and afterwards, if the SEP user does not agree with the offer, makes a counter offer which also has to be FRAND. During this negotiation process, the characteristics of the SEP user as well as its specific objections can be taken account in the license at the discretion of the parties. As such, the court noted that the fact that Defendant’s initial offer would turn out to be unreasonable for Claimant because she finds itself in the low budget segment of the market and her margins are small does not imply that the offer made by Defendant on 28 July 2015 is not FRAND.
      The court also made clear that until the Huawei/ZTE judgment the initiative to obtain a license was incumbent on the SEP user and not on the SEP holder in line with the common interpretation of the judgment of the Rechtbank Den Haag in Philips/SK Kassetten and the Orange Book ruling of the Bundesgerichtshof. In the view of the court the, on this crucial point, contrary Huawei/ZTE judgment that was delivered on 15 July 2015 constituted a new moment for negotiation between the parties. The court noted that, in line with the Huawei/ZTE judgment, Defendant took initiative with its licensing offer of 28 July 2015. Since Claimant made clear in the meeting on 3 September 2015 that Defendant would have to take legal action if she wished to obtain more than a few thousand euros in licensing fees, it seems unfitting that Archos reproaches Philips to have not been open to negotiation, or at least that position is insufficiently substantiated (par. 4.3).
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      Claimant put forward a number of arguments for its claim that Defendant’s offer of 28 July 2015 is not FRAND. All of these arguments were rejected by the court on the ground that Claimant had not sufficiently substantiated them. The main arguments raised are as follows.
      Claimant argued that Defendant’s rights regarding devices incorporating Qualcomm baseband chips had been exhausted due to the cross-license that Defendant had already concluded with Qualcomm for these chips. Since a number of Claimant’s products rely on Qualcomm baseband chips, the compensation that Defendant had already received from Qualcomm should, in the view of Claimant, at least have been taken into account in the license offer. The court noted that Claimant had not sufficiently contested that the Qualcomm license did not cover production and sales of mobile phones – as Defendant had made clear before the court – and that Claimant could have raised this point during the negotiations (par. 4.4).
      The court continued by stating that the fact that Defendant’s licensing offer covered both UMTS and LTE SEPS could not affect the FRAND-ness of the offer in the case at hand considering that Claimant’s products do not merely require a license under the LTE SEPs but also under the UMTS SEPs (par. 4.5).
      While the parties agreed that the Defendant’s share of the absolute number of SEPs in the UMTS-SEP portfolio is an important factor for assessing the FRAND-character of Defendant’s offer, they each reached different absolute numbers. The court concluded that the calculations in the consultancy reports on which Claimant relied do not lead to accurate results and are rather speculative in nature. As such, the Claimant downplayed the value of Defendant’s SEPs (par. 4.6-4.7).
      With regard to Claimant’s argument that Defendant’s proposed royalty rate would amount to impermissible royalty stacking, the court argued that this was insufficiently substantiated by Claimant (par. 4.8).
      Claimant also argued that the royalty rate should not be based on the total price of a phone but merely on the part in which the technology at issue is incorporated (the Smallest Saleable Patent-Practising Unit, SSPPU). In this context, the court noted that Defendant rightly pointed out that the requested royalty was set at a fixed amount as a result of which there is no relationship with the market value of the phone. Furthermore, since the SSPPU concept is at the very least subject to debate, the court noted that this issue could have been considered in the negotiations. That the royalty rate suggested by Defendant, which was not based on the SSPPU price, would not be FRAND for that mere reason could not be established by the court (par. 4.10).
      The court also dismissed Claimant’s reference to patent hold-up on the ground that a situation of hold-up can only occur in the case of a non-FRAND license which had not been established in the case at issue (par. 4.13).
      In the end, the court dismissed Claimant’s request to make a declaratory statement that Defendant’s offer of 28 July 2015 was not FRAND.
    3. The standard implementer’s reaction
      Considering that Claimant’s counter offer of 12 January 2016 is more than a factor 10 lower than the Defendant’s offer and is based on an inaccurate (at least insufficiently substantiated) share of Defendant’s SEPs in the relevant UMTS standard, the court refused to declare the counter offer to be FRAND, let alone to declare that this counter offer is higher than a FRAND royalty rate as requested by Claimant (par. 4.17-4.18).
  3. Other important issues
    AA defence that Defendant invoked was that Claimant had no interest (anymore) in the requested declaratory statements because its respective FRAND commitments were exhausted due to the unwilling attitude of Claimant. However, as Claimant’s requests for the declaratory statements were found not to be sufficiently substantiated, there was no need for the court to discuss this issue anymore (par. 4.18).