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Sisvel v ZTE, Tribunale Ordinario di Torino

18 January 2016 - Case No. 30308/20215 R.G.

  1. Facts
    Claimant (Sisvel Int. S.A.) is the proprietor of European patent EP 1 264 504, originally granted to Nokia Corporation, allegedly covering part of the UMTS standard, and being part of Claimant’s patent portfolio “Sisvel Wireless patents” which purportedly encompasses patents essential to various ICT standards. Defendant I (ZTE Italy S.R.L.) and Defendant II (Europhoto Trading S.R.L.) produce and market UMTS-based devices.
    On 10 April 2013, Claimant made a commitment towards ETSI declaring to grant a license on FRAND terms with regard to patent EP 1 64 504. By letter as of December 2012 Claimant informed ZTE Corporation, parent company of Defendant I, about its ownership in various SEPs, indicated that the teachings of these patents were implemented in Defendant I’s devices and expressed its willingness to grant licenses on FRAND terms. On 19 December 2012, ZTE Corporation requested from Claimant further information in order to be able to assess that offer. On 29 January 2013, Claimant sent a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which ZTE Corporation signed only about seven months later on 3 September 2013. In the course of meetings in September and October 2013, Claimant and ZTE Corporation entered into licensing negotiations without concluding a licensing agreement. On 25 July 2014, after a break of several months, the licensing negotiations have been reinitiated and ZTE Corporation for the first time addressed a claim chart provided by Claimant about ten months before.
    Claimant, by letter as of 13 October 2014, gave notice of its decision to unilaterally terminate the NDA within thirty days because ZTE Corporation adhered to delaying tactics. At the same time, though, Claimant continued the licensing negotiations. Although ZTE Corporation declared at first, on 5 February 2015, to agree to the terms proposed by Claimant it submitted a counter-offer a few months later. The counter-offer was rejected by Claimant. After the presentation of a draft licensing agreement by Claimant on 11 March 2015 and several meetings of the parties Claimant submitted a final licensing offer on 4 November 2015 being rejected by ZTE Corporation due to its alleged non-conformity with FRAND terms. Since a further licensing offer being presented in December 2015 was equally refused by ZTE Corporation, Claimant commenced litigation against Defendants.
    After Defendant II, a retail company, was informed about the seizure of twenty mobile phones implementing the UMTS-standard, it immediately returned the remaining six devices to its supplier and provided the necessary sales documents to the court.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    Since Claimant only entered into licensing negotiations with and addressed all licensing offers to ZTE Corporation, being the parent company of Defendant I, it did not comply with its Huawei obligations vis-à-vis Defendant I. Claimant neither noticed Defendant I of the alleged infringement prior to initiating litigation nor did it provide the necessary documents indicating the essential character of the patent in question. [1]
    While rejecting all other actions , particularly as to the seizure of devices using the patent-in-suit, raised against Defendant II, who neither became involved into the licensing negotiations between Claimant and ZTE Corporation nor possesses mobile devices implementing the UMTS standard anymore, the court upheld the action for prohibitory injunction because the confirmation of cessation of sales does not completely exclude periculum in mora. [2] Furthermore, the court rejected the preliminary measures raised by Claimant against Defendant I.
    Furthermore, the court stated that the NDA was not validly terminated by Claimant’s unilateral declaration as of 19 December 2014 and that therefore Claimant was not allowed to initiate proceedings against ZTE Corporation or its subsidiaries, such as Defendant I, until 3 September 2016.
  • [1] Case No. 30308/20215 R.G., para. 3
  • [2] Case No. 30308/20215 R.G., para. 5, a-c