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Nokia v Daimler

12 February 2021 - Case No. 6 U 130/20

http://caselaw.4ipcouncil.com/german-court-decisions/olg-karlsruhe/nokia-v-daimler

A. Facts

The claimant is part of the Nokia group with headquarters in Finland (Nokia). Nokia is a major provider of telecommunication services and holds a significant portfolio of patents declared as (potentially) essential to the practice of various wireless telecommunication standards (standard essential patents, or SEPs) developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

The defendant, Daimler, is a German car manufacturer with a global presence. Daimler produces and sells cars in Germany with connectivity features which implement standards developed by ETSI.

Nokia declared the patent involved in the present case as essential for the 4G/LTE Standard towards ETSI. ETSI requires patent holders to commit to make patents that are or might become essential to the practice of a standard accessible to users on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

In June 2016, Nokia informed Daimler about its SEP portfolio. In November 2016, Nokia made a first licensing offer to Daimler. In December 2016, Daimler replied that it would be more efficient to license suppliers manufacturing the so-called 'Telematics Control Units' (TCUs), which are built into Daimler's cars. From January 2017 until February 2019, Daimler did not engage in further negotiations with Nokia.

In February 2019, Nokia made a second licensing offer to Daimler which was also rejected.

In March 2019, Nokia filed infringement actions against Daimler before the District Court of Mannheim (District Court). Further cases were filed before the District Courts of Munich and Duesseldorf.

On 9 May 2019, shortly after the infringement proceedings were initiated, Daimler made a counteroffer to Nokia (first counteroffer) which was rejected. On 10 June 2020, Daimler made a further counteroffer that did not include specific royalty rates (second counteroffer). Nokia would be granted the right to unilaterally determine the royalties payable under the licence, whereas Daimler would have the option to contest Nokia's royalty determination before court. An agreement on these terms was not signed.

On 18 August 2020, the District Court granted an injunction against Daimler and further recognised Daimler's liability to pay damages on the merits. [1] The Court also ordered Daimler to render accounts and provide information necessary for the calculation of damages to Nokia.

Daimler appealed the decision of the District Court. It also filed a request for a stay of the enforcement of the injunction granted until the conclusion of the appeal proceedings.

With the present judgment [2] (cited by http://lrbw.juris.de), the Higher District Court of Karlsruhe (Appeal Court) found in favour of Daimler, ordering a stay of the enforcement of the injunction.
 

B. Court's reasoning

The Appeal Court placed particular focus on the reasoning, on which the District Court relied upon for dismissing the so-called 'FRAND-defence' raised by Daimler against Nokia's claim for injunctive relief. Daimler had argued that by filing infringement actions, Nokia had abused its dominant market position in violation of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and should, therefore, be denied an injunction. The District Court held that Daimler could not invoke this argument, since it had failed to sufficiently express willingness to obtain a FRAND licence from Nokia in accordance with the requirements established by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in the matter Huawei v ZTE [3] (Huawei decision, or framework).
 

Willingness

The Appeal Court did not contest the standard applied by the District Court for the assessment of willingness: the implementer is expected to 'clearly' and 'unambiguously' declare that it is willing to sign a licence with the SEP holder 'on whatever terms are in fact FRAND' and, subsequently, engage in licensing negotiations in a 'target-oriented' manner. [4] The Appeal Court also agreed with the view expressed by the District Court that the declaration of willingness cannot be made subject to conditions. [5] Furthermore, it reasoned that willingness is not a 'one-off event', meaning that the implementer is required to constantly engage in negotiations in a 'serious and target-oriented' manner and to avoid 'delaying tactics'. [5]
 

Implementer's counteroffer

The Appeal Court also confirmed that the implementer's counteroffer is a factor that can be considered for the assessment of willingness [6] . On the one hand, a FRAND-compliant counteroffer could, in principle, 'heal' the initial 'unwillingness' of the implementer. [7] On the other hand, a counteroffer that is not FRAND can reinforce the finding of missing willingness. [7] Having said that, the Appeal Court held that the District Court erred as far as it assumed that Daimler's second counteroffer was not sufficient to 'heal' the unwilling behaviour displayed by Daimler up to the point in time, in which this counteroffer was made. [8] The Appeal Court pointed out that – contrary to the District Court's view – a counteroffer which does not specify concrete licensing fees but instead grants the patent holder the right to unilaterally determine the royalties and – at the same time – allows the implementer to challenge such determination before court in subsequent proceedings (Sec. 315 of the German Civil Code), should regularly be considered as a sufficient declaration of willingness to sign a licence 'on whatever terms are in fact FRAND'. [9] According to the Appeal Court, the fact that by such counteroffer the implementer does not back down from the own perception of how FRAND terms should look like and will, therefore, most likely contest the royalties unilaterally determined by the SEP holder is, as a rule, not harmful: the SEP holder will in any case receive either the royalties it determined or the royalties deemed to be reasonable by the court which will be called upon by the implementer to examine the royalty determination undertaken by the patent holder. [10]

In the eyes of the Appeal Court, the fact that in the above scenario the (final) determination of FRAND royalties is postponed to subsequent proceedings following the patent infringement trial does not per se suffice to question the willingness of the implementer. [11] The Appeal Court rather highlighted that it would regularly serve the interests of the SEP holder to 'unburden' the infringement trial from the FRAND determination, which would lead to a quicker judgment on the infringement issues. [11]

Furthermore, the Appeal Court disagreed with the view previously taken by the District Court, according to which a counteroffer without specific royalty calculation could be (mis-)used by implementers as a means for delaying the signing of an agreement until after the expiration of the patent in suit, in order to secure a more favourable position in negotiations absent the threat of an injunction. [12] The Appeal Court pointed out that, if a licence stipulating a unilateral royalty determination right in favour of the SEP holder is concluded, the latter will receive royalties for the use of its patents; in the court proceedings following the infringement trial only the actual amount of the royalties payable will be determined. [12]

Notwithstanding the above, the Appeal Court made, however, clear that a counteroffer containing no specific royalties can, nevertheless, be an indication of unwillingness in individual cases, especially when it is belated. [13] This could be true, when the counteroffer is made only after infringement proceedings have been initiated by the patent holder. Although it is, in principle, thinkable to remedy flaws during pending infringement proceedings, a counteroffer made after the trial has begun would be unacceptable, if it is part of delaying tactics on the side of the implementer. [14] The Appeal Court found that this approach is in line with the Huawei judgment. [15]

In this context, the Appeal Court pointed out that a counteroffer without specific royalty calculation, which could be sufficient for establishing willingness, does not necessarily also suffice for complying with the further going obligation of the implementer under the Huawei framework to make an own offer on FRAND terms to the SEP holder, if it chooses to reject the licensing offer of the latter. [16] In the present case, the Appeal Court did not take a closer look at this question, since the District Court had not examined whether Daimler had been obliged to make a FRAND counteroffer after rejecting Nokia's licensing offers. [16]

  • [1] Nokia v Daimler, District Court (Landgericht) of Mannheim, judgment dated 18 August 2020, Case-No. 2 O 34/19.
  • [2] Nokia v Daimler, Higher District Court (Oberlandesgericht) of Karlsruhe, judgment dated 12 February 2021, Case-No.6 U 130/20.
  • [3] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the EU, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13.
  • [4] Nokia v Daimler, Higher District Court of Karlsruhe (footnote No. 2), para.43.
  • [5] Ibid, para. 43.
  • [6] Ibid, paras. 45 et seq.
  • [7] Ibid, paras. 46.
  • [8] Ibid, para. 47.
  • [9] Ibid, para. 51.
  • [10] Ibid, para. 52.
  • [11] Ibid, para. 53.
  • [12] Ibid, para. 54.
  • [13] Ibid, para. 55.
  • [14] Ibid, para. 56.
  • [15] Ibid, para. 57.
  • [16] Ibid, para. 61.