Case Law post CJEU ruling Huawei v ZTE

Koninklijke Philips N.V. v Asustek Computers INC., Court of Appeal of The Hague

7 May 2019 - Case No. 200.221.250/01

http://caselaw.4ipcouncil.com/dutch-court-decisions/koninklijke-philips-nv-v-asustek-computers-inc-court-appeal

A. Facts

The present case concerns a dispute between Philips—a consumer electronics manufacturer and holder of a portfolio of patents declared potentially essential to the practice of various standards (Standard Essential Patents or SEPs) developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)—and Asus—a manufacturer of wireless devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Philips had committed towards ETSI to make its SEPs accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms. In particular, in 1998 Philips had provided ETSI with a general (blanket) commitment to offer access to its SEPs on FRAND terms.

In 2013, Philips notified Asus of its portfolio reading on the 3G-UMTS and 4G-LTE wireless telecommunications standards and proposed a licensing agreement. In subsequent meetings between the parties, Philips provided further details on its patents, as well as claim charts mapping its patents on the standards on which they were reading. Philips also submitted to Asus its standard licensing agreement, which included the standard royalty rate in Philips’s licensing program and the way it is calculated.

In 2015, negotiations fell apart and Philips initiated infringement proceedings based, among others, on its European Patent 1 623 511 (EP 511) in various European jurisdictions, namely England, France, Germany. The EP 511 patent was declared by Philips to be potentially essential to the 3G-UMTS and 4G-LTE standards. The High Court of Justice of England and Wales delivered a preliminary verdict, upholding the validity of the EP 511 patent.

In the Netherlands, Philips had brought an action against Asus before the District Court of The Hague (District Court), requesting inter alia for an injunction. The District Court dismissed Philips’s request for an injunction based on the EP 511 patent. [1] Philips appealed before the Court of Appeal of The Hague (Court of Appeal).

With the present judgment, the Court of Appeal upheld the validity and essentiality of the EP 511, rejected Asus’s FRAND defence based on Article 102 TFEU, and entered an injunction against Asus for its products infringing the patent in suit. [2]

B. Court’s Reasoning

The Court of Appeal dismissed Asus’s invalidity challenge, upholding the novelty and inventiveness of the EP 511 patent. [3] Moreover, the Court of Appeal found the patent essential and infringed. [4]

The Court of Appeal went on to examine the claims put forward by Asus, namely that Philips, in initiating infringement proceedings requesting injunctive relief, had violated its contractual FRAND obligations towards ETSI and infringed Article 102 TFEU, by failing to meet the requirements set forth in the decision of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in the matter Huawei v ZTE (Huawei requirements) [5] . In particular, Asus argued that Philips (a) failed to properly and timely disclose the EP 511 in accordance with ETSI IPR Policy, and (b) that Philips failed to comply with the Huawei requirements, because it did not clarify why its proposed terms were FRAND.

With regard to the former, the Court of Appeal found that, in declaring EP 511 as potentially essential two years after it was granted, Philips had not breached its contractual obligations under Article 4.1 ETSI IPR Policy which requires ‘timely disclosure’ of SEPs.

Starting with the general purpose underlying the ETSI disclosure obligation, the Court of Appeal found that it was not—as Asus maintained—to allow ETSI participants to choose the technical solutions with the lowest cost, since ETSI standards seek to incorporate the best available technologies. [6] Rather, the purpose of the declaration obligation was to reduce the risk of SEPs being ex post unavailable to users. [7]

Having said that, the Court of Appeal found that the general blanket declaration by Philips was sufficient to fulfil its obligations under the ETSI IPR Policy. In this regard, the Court of Appeal dismissed the argument raised by Asus that Philips’s late declaration of specific SEPs would result in over-declaration: on the contrary, the Court of Appeal held, early disclosure is more likely to include patents that are not in fact essential to ETSI standards. [8] Moreover, the Court of Appeal pointed out that Philips’s blanket declaration did not infringe Article 101 TFEU, as per the Horizontal Guidelines by the EU Commission, blanket declarations are also an acceptable form of declaration of SEPs for the purposes of EU competition law. [9]

Having dismissed Asus’s first ground for a FRAND defence, the Court of Appeal assessed the compliance of both parties with the Huawei requirements in their negotiations. The Court of Appeal noted, as a preliminary point, that the decision of the CJEU in Huawei did not develop a strict set of requirements such that patent holders that failed to abide by they would automatically infringe Article 102 TFEU. [10] For such a finding an overall assessment of the particular circumstances of the case and the parties’ conduct is necessary.

The Court of Appeal then examined Philips’s compliance with the first Huawei requirement, the proper notification to the infringer. According to the Court of Appeal, the case record showed that Philips had clearly discharged its burden to notify Asus, by submitting a list of patents that were allegedly infringed, the standards to which they were essential, and by declaring its willingness to offer a licence on FRAND terms. [11] Moreover, in further technical discussions, Philips provided more technical details on its portfolio and licensing program, including claim charts and its standard licensing royalty rate. [12] However, Asus failed to demonstrate its willingness to obtain a licence on FRAND terms. The Court of Appeal found that talks commenced always at Philips’s initiative, and that Asus was not represented in these talks by technical experts able to evaluate Philips’s portfolio. [13] The technical issues raised by Asus in negotiations were merely pretextual with a view to stall the process, or as the Court of Appeal put it a ‘behaviour also referred to as “hold-out.”’ [14]

Although the Court of Appeal held that at this point Asus was already in breach of its obligations under Huawei and thus Philips was entitled to seek an injunction, the Court went on to discuss compliance with the further steps in the Huawei framework. The Court of Appeal found that Philips’s proposal of its standard licensing agreement fully satisfied the CJEU requirements in that it was specific and explained how the how the proposed rate was calculated. [15] Moreover, the Court of Appeal held that the counteroffer submitted by Asus after the initiation of proceedings in Germany did not in itself alter the conclusion that Philips was compliant with Huawei, and thus entitled to seek an injunction. [16] Finally, the Court rejected the request on behalf of Asus to access comparable licences signed by Philips to assess the latter’s FRAND compliance. According the Court, neither the ETSI IPR Policy nor Article 102 TFEU and the Huawei framework provide a basis for such a request. [17]

  • [1] Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Asustek Computers INC, District Court of the Hague, 2017, Case No. C 09 512839 /HA ZA 16-712.
  • [2] Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Asustek Computers INC, Court of Appeal of The Hague, judgment 7 May 2019, dated Case No. 200.221.250/01.
  • [3] ibid, paras 4.63, 4.68, 4.75, 4.80, 4.82, 4.93, 4.100, and 4.117.
  • [4] ibid, paras 4.118 et seq.
  • [5] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case-No. C-170/13.
  • [6] Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Asustek Computers INC, Court of Appeal of The Hague, judgment 7 May 2019, dated Case No. 200.221.250/01, paras 4.153 et seq.
  • [7] ibid, paras 4.155 and 4.157.
  • [8] ibid, para 4.159.
  • [9] ibid, para 4.164.
  • [10] ibid, para 4.171.
  • [11] ibid, para 4.172.
  • [12] ibid.
  • [13] ibid, paras 4.172-4.179.
  • [14] ibid, para 4.179.
  • [15] ibid, para 4.183.
  • [16] ibid, para 4.185.
  • [17] ibid, paras 4.202 et seq.