Case Law post CJEU ruling Huawei v ZTE

Case law search


Updated 23 January 2018

LG Mannheim

LG Mannheim
4 March 2016 - Case No. 7 O 24/14

A. Facts

Case No. 7 O 24/14 [292] related to the infringement of patent EP 0.734.181.B1, which covered technology for decoding video signals in the DVD standard (‘subtitle data encoding/decoding and recording medium for the same’). [293] The defendant was a German subsidiary of a Taiwanese electronics company. It sold computers that used such DVD-software. The claimant, a Japanese electronics company, commercialised the patent in question through a patent pool. In early 2013, the patent pool approached the defendant’s parent company about the use of their patents in general.

On 30 May 2014, the defendant offered to enter into a license agreement for the respective German patent. The defendant indicated that it was willing to enter into negotiations for a portfolio license (but for Germany only). It was also willing to have the claimant determine the royalties owed under section 315 of the German Civil Code. On 25 July 2014, the claimant suggested to change the license offer to a worldwide portfolio license. The defendant rejected and informed the claimant on 22 August 2014 as to the number of respective computers they put into circulation between July 2013 and June 2014 in Germany.

On 13 March 2015, the claimant made an offer for a worldwide portfolio license. On 5 May 2015, the defendant requested the relevant claim charts and further details as to how the license fees had been calculated. On 25 June 2015, the claimant sent the claim charts but refused to elaborate on the calculation method. The claimant suggested a meeting in which it would answer further questions. The defendant responded on 13 July 2015 that most of the claim charts lacked necessary details. In a meeting between the claimant and the defendant’s parent company on 3 September 2015, the parties were unable to reach an agreement. On 30 September 2015, the claimant sent a PowerPoint presentation containing explanations regarding the patent and the calculation of the license fees.

The District Court of Mannheim granted an injunction order on 4 March 2016. [294] It also held that the defendant was liable for compensation and ordered it to render full and detailed accounts of its sales to determine the amount of compensation owed. Further, the District Court ordered a recall and removal of all infringing products from the relevant distribution channels.

B. Court’s Reasoning

1. Notice of Infringement

According to the Huawei/ZTE ruling, the claimant is required to notify the defendant of the alleged patent infringement. According to the District Court, this notice is supposed to provide the defendant an opportunity to assess the patent situation. [295] Thus, it is insufficient to notify the defendant that its products contain the respective standard and it is therefore infringing the SEP. Instead, the claimant is required to specify the infringed patent, the standard in question, and that the patent has been declared essential. The level of detail required depends on the respective situation. [296] However, the description does not need to be as thorough as a statement of claim in patent litigation. In the eyes of the court, the customary claim charts (which show the relevant patent claims and the corresponding passages of the standard) will typically be sufficient. By sending the charts to the defendant, the claimant had met its obligations under the Huawei/ZTE ruling. [297]

The Huawei/ZTE principles require the SEP holder to give notice of infringement before commencing patent infringement proceedings. Otherwise, the SEP holder would abuse its market power, which would mean that the patent infringement court would not be able to grant an injunction order. However, according to the District Court, in such a situation the SEP holder would not lose its patent rights, but would be prevented from exercising those rights in court. [298] Proceedings that had been commenced prior to the Huawei/ZTE ruling present a special case. In that situation, the SEP holder could not have been aware of the obligations that the CJEU subsequently imposed on claimants. Thus, it must be possible for an SEP holder to go through the Huawei/ZTE process subsequently without losing the pending lawsuit. [299] On this basis, the District Could held that the claimant had taken all necessary steps after commencing proceedings, which met the Huawei/ZTE requirements. [300]

2. The SEP Owner’s Licensing Offer

The District Court expressed its view that the CJEU had wanted to establish a procedure that keeps the infringement proceedings free of complicated deliberations about the conditions of the offer, similarly to the German Federal Court of Justice decision Orange Book Standard. [301] If the alleged infringer argues that the conditions of the offer are not FRAND – and, according to the court, alleged infringers typically do so – it is not the role of the infringement court to examine the conditions of the offer and decide whether they are FRAND or not. [296] Thus, the District Court took the view that an infringement court only assesses in a summary review whether the conditions were not evidently non-FRAND. An offer is only non-FRAND if it is under the relevant circumstances abusive. For example, this would be the case if the conditions offered to the alleged infringer were significantly worse than those offered to third parties. [302] The District Court held that in the case in issue the royalties were not evidently non-FRAND because the royalty rates were generally accepted in the market. [303]

The offer needs to include the calculation method in respect of the royalties. [302] However, the CJEU did not elaborate on the level of detail required. [304] The District Court took the view that the SEP holder needs to enable the alleged infringer to understand why the offer is FRAND. In the case in issue, the claimant had included the calculation method. It had also provided further explanations regarding the calculation, which met the Huawei/ZTE requirements. [305]

3. The standard implementer’s reaction

The alleged infringer is required to respond to the SEP proprietor’s license offer, even if the infringer is of the opinion that the offer does not meet the FRAND criteria. [304] The only possible exception is an offer that, by means of summary examination, is clearly not FRAND, which would constitute an abuse of market power. A counter-offer would need to be made as soon as possible, taking into account recognized commercial practices in the field and good faith. The District Court held that the defendant had not made an adequate counter-offer. It is common business practice to enter into license agreements in respect of worldwide portfolio licenses. [306] The defendant’s counter-offer only included the respective German license, which was deemed by the District Court as insufficient. [306] Further, the defendant had not made an adequate deposit into the court as required under the Huawei/ZTE principles. [307]

C. Other Important Issues

The court held that the procedures prescribed by the Huawei/ZTE ruling apply to applications for injunctions and recall orders, but not to rendering accounts and compensation. Regarding rendering accounts and compensation, SEP holders could pursue their rights in court without additional requirements. [304]

Further, the District Court was of the opinion that an alleged breach of Art. 101 TFEU could not be raised as a defence in patent infringement proceedings. Even if the claimant’s conduct was anti-competitive pursuant to Art. 101 TFEU, the standardisation agreement would be void. [308] This has no implications for patent infringement proceedings.

The court also held that there was no general rule that the SEP holder could only bring proceedings against the manufacturer of the infringing product. [309] In the eyes of the District Court, the Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe decision 6 U 44/15 (23 April 2015) did not establish such a principle. In that case, the defendant was a company that acted merely as a distributor of infringing products (which means it was reselling the products without making any alterations). In contrast, the defendant in the present case had installed the infringing software onto laptops and then sold them under its own brand name. Thus, the two cases were not comparable. [309]

  • [292] See also OLG Karlsruhe, 8 September 2016, 6 U 58/16 (application to stay execution of LG Mannheim, 7 O 24/14).
  • [293]  LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 4-6.
  • [294] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 2-3.
  • [295] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 22.
  • [296] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 23.
  • [297] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 34/35.
  • [298] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 26.
  • [299] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 27-30.
  • [300] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 33.
  • [301] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 21.
  • [302] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 24.
  • [303] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 37.
  • [304] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 25.
  • [305] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 35/36.
  • [306] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 38.
  • [307] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 38-40.
  • [308] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 43.
  • [309] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 44.

Updated 26 January 2017

Unwired Planet v Samsung

LG Düsseldorf
19 January 2016 - Case No. 4b O 120/14

  1. Facts
    Since 7 March 2014 Claimant, a non-practicing entity, is the proprietor of European patent EP D, allegedly covering a feature of the GSM standard, originally granted to the Intervener, and subsequently transferred to company “I”. Defendants, belonging to the K-group, produce and market GSM- and UMTS-based devices.
    In an agreement as of 26 October 2011, the Intervener granted a worldwide non-exclusive license to Qualcomm Inc., being, in turn, allowed to grant sub-licenses to its customers. Furthermore, by agreement as of 1 February 2014 one of the Defendants was granted a worldwide, non-exclusive license to patents owned by the Intervener.
    On 10 January 2013, the Intervener concluded a so-called “Master Sales Agreement” (MSA), concerning the exploitation of a portfolio of more than two thousand patents, with “E”, “F” and its subsidiaries. Claimant became a party to the MSA later on. After its accession to the MSA, “I”, by assuming the existing FRAND obligation of the Intervener in accordance with the MSA, made a separate FRAND commitment towards ETSI on 14 June 2013 and declared, in an agreement as of 13 February 2013, to ensure that subsequent acquirers equally assume this obligation. Accordingly, after the transfer of patent EP D to Claimant the latter made, on 6 March 2014, a separate commitment towards ETSI declaring to be willing to grant licenses on FRAND terms with regard to, inter alia, patent EP D.
    In order to implement the MSA the parties concluded three transfer agreements. Claimant argues that the Intervener validly transferred a part of its patent portfolio, including patent EP D, by agreement as of 11 February 2013 to undertaking “B”. On 13 February 2013, “B”, in turn, transferred the patent portfolio, including patent EP D, to “I”. After successfully requesting, on 3 September 2013, an amendment of the patent register, being performed on 24 October 2013, “I” transferred, on 27 February 2014, the patent portfolio, including patent EP D, to Claimant. Claimant successfully requested, on 7 March 2014, an amendment of the patent register which was performed on 3 July 2014.
    As a reaction to Claimant’s public license proposal including a royalty of USD 0.75 per mobile device Defendants allegedly submitted a counter-offer but no licensing agreement was concluded.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. Market power
      The court stressed that an application of Article 102 TFEU does not automatically result from SEP ownership but that it requires proof of a dominant position on the relevant market being conveyed by the SEP in question. Due to the fact that products not implementing the patent-in-suit could not effectively compete on the relevant market because of GSM being a key feature for such products market power of Claimant was affirmed. [172]
    2. Applicability of the Huawei rules to damages and the rendering of accounts
      While the Huawei rules of conduct apply to actions for injunction, recall and destruction of products they are, in principle, not directly applicable to claims for damages and the rendering of accounts. [173] Nor is it necessarily abusive for a SEP proprietor to bring an action for damages and the rendering of accounts without having notified the standard implementer of an infringement and without having offered a FRAND license beforehand. The Huawei obligations do, however, have an indirect impact on the extent to which damages and the rendering of accounts are due: Where the SEP proprietor fails to grant a FRAND license although he has made a FRAND commitment and the standard implementer has expressed its readiness to take a license, damages are limited to the FRAND royalty level but only for the period after the SEP proprietor’s abusive refusal to license. [174] Claims for information and the rendering of accounts must, in this event, be limited to what is necessary for determining FRAND-based damages. [175]
    3. Cap on damages/rendering of accounts in casu
      In casu Defendant could not show that he had complied with its Huawei obligation to sufficiently express its willingness to take a FRAND license. In consequence, no cap on Claimant’s claim for damages was deemed appropriate. [175]
  3. Other important issues
    Whether a SEP proprietor is free to enforce its patent in court or whether the proprietor is obliged to grant a FRAND license has to be determined under Art. 102 TFEU, not Art. 101 TFEU. [176] A FRAND declaration is not an unconditional offer made by the patent proprietor to enter into a licensing agreement with anyone willing to take a license, it merely expresses that the proprietor is, in principle, ready to grant a FRAND license if the patent in question conveys market dominance. As such, the FRAND commitment merely specifies a duty to license which competition law would impose anyway but it has an impact on the patent owner’s obligations under Art. 102 TFEU. [177]
    As regards the transfer of a SEP from the original patent proprietor to a non-practicing entity, registration in the patent register in accordance with § 30 (3) PatG establishes—also with regard to claims for damages and the rendering of accounts—presumption of ownership, allowing the proprietor to enforce all rights derived from the SEP as long as the presumption has not been successfully rebutted by Defendants. The non-registration of “B” as an interim owner was considered irrelevant under the circumstances of the present case (but not generally). Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. I, 1-2
    The MSA and the subsequent transfer agreements neither violate the German provisions on merger control (§§ 35-43 GWB) since, in any case, merger control thresholds are not reached.
    Nor was a violation of the European provisions on anticompetitive agreements (Article 101 TFEU) or on the abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 TFEU) found. Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. I, 4, a-c In particular, the transactions did not aim at enforcing non-FRAND royalties or at discriminating between licensees and the agreements framing the transactions ensured that the acquirers of the relevant patents were bound by (the initial) FRAND commitments. [178] The acquirer of a SEP is neither obliged to continue the transferor’s licensing practice in an unmodified manner nor to implement exactly the same conditions in all licensing agreements, provided the conditions are FRAND and no unjustified discrimination takes place. It is not abusive in itself for a (former) SEP proprietor to split its portfolio and to transfer the parts to several acquirers, thereby trying to arrive at higher overall royalties being paid for the portfolio. Nor is a resulting increase in the number of licenses a standard implementer has to take per se inacceptable. However, licensing conditions are FRAND only if the cumulative royalty level resulting from the licensing of all pertinent SEPs is not excessive. Putting it differently, where the royalty level for the entire portfolio was below or at the lower end of the FRAND range, it is not abusive to arrive, by way of splitting the portfolio and licensing its parts separately, at a higher overall royalty level within the FRAND range. Furthermore, the transaction agreements did not amount to price fixing. [179]
  • [172] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. VII, 6, a
  • [173] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. VII, 6, b, aa, bb
  • [174] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. VII, 6, b, dd
  • [175] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. VII, 6, b, ee
  • [176] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. VII, 4
  • [177] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. VII, 5
  • [178] Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. I, 4, b, aa
  • [179] Cf. for details LG Düsseldorf, 19 January 2016 - Case No. 4b O 120/14, para. I, 4, b, bb

Updated 3 December 2018

IP Bridge v HTC

LG Mannheim
28 September 2018 - Case No. 7 O 165/16

A. Facts

The Claimant, IP Bridge, is a non-practising entity holding a European patent (German part) which was declared essential to the wireless telecommunications standard LTE (Standard Essential Patent or SEP) developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) [357] . The previous holder of the SEP in question had made an undertaking towards ETSI according to Article 6.1 of ETSI IPR Policy to make the patent accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions [358] .

The Defendant is a German subsidiary of HTC, a company which manufactures and sells electronic devices worldwide, including mobile phones complying with the LTE standard [359] . The Defendant filed an action for invalidity against the Claimant’s SEP in Germany [359] .

In December 2014, the Claimant contacted the Defendant’s parent company (parent company) suggesting that the parties entered into negotiations regarding a licence for Claimant’s patent portfolio which also included the aforementioned SEP [359] . Subsequently, several licensing offers and counter-offers were made by the Claimant and the parent company respectively [359] . On 29 February 2016, the Claimant sent a letter to the parent company explaining how the LTE standard made use of the technology covered by its SEP inter alia under reference to an attached claims chart [360] . In response, the parent company confirmed that it is willing to obtain a licence, among others, by letter dated 7 September 2016 [361] . However, no licensing agreement was concluded.

On 27 September 2016, the Claimant brought an infringement action against the Defendant before the District Court of Mannheim (Court) requesting for a declaratory judgment confirming Defendant’s liability for damages arising from the use of its SEP as well as for information and rendering of accounts [362] .

On 16 February 2018, during the course of the pending proceedings against the Defendant, the Claimant made a further licensing offer to the parent company [363] . On 11 April 2018, after the parent company had signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, the Claimant presented existing licensing agreements with third parties concerning its relevant patent portfolio (comparable agreements) to the parent company and requested the latter to respond to its last licensing offer of 16 February 2018 within one week (that is until 18 April 2018) [363] . This deadline was extended for almost three weeks until 7 May 2018 [363] .

On 15 May 2018, the Claimant extended its claims in the ongoing proceedings; in addition to its already pending claims, it sought for injunctive relief and also requested the recall and the destruction of products infringing its SEP (claims for injunction) [363] .

With the present judgment the Court ruled that the Defendant is liable for damages arising from the infringement of the SEP in suit [364] . The Court also ordered the Defendant to render accounts and to provide relevant information to the Claimant [364] . On the other hand, the Court dismissed the claim for injunctive relief and the recall and destruction of infringing products as being unenforceable for the time being [365] .


B. Court’s reasoning

The Court held that the products sold by the Defendant in Germany infringe Claimant’s SEP [366] . Thus, the Defendant is obliged to compensate the damages suffered by the Claimant and the previous holder of the patent in suit [364] . Since the Claimant has no knowledge of the details required for the quantification of the damages suffered, the Defendant is obliged to provide information on relevant uses (starting from the publication of the patent grant) and render accounts for such uses (starting from one month after the publication of the patent grant) [364] .

In the Court’s view, the Defendant cannot raise a defence based on a so-called “patent ambush” against these claims [367] . A “patent ambush” requires that the patent holder deliberately – in terms of a willful fraudulent misconduct – misled the participants in the standardisation process and intentionally prevented the adoption of an alternative technology into the standard [368] . Insofar, it needs to be established (by the defendant) that the disclosure of the patent during the standardisation process would have led to an alternative structure of the standard, which would have avoided making use of the teaching of the patent in suit; the mere theoretical possibility of an alternative technical solution does not suffice for supporting the allegation of a “patent ambush” [368] . The Court held that the Defendant failed to establish such fact [367] . Accordingly, the Court left the question regarding the legal consequences of a “patent ambush” open (obligation to licence royalty-free or just an obligation to offer FRAND licences?) [367] .

Furthermore, the Court stressed out that the FRAND undertaking given by the previous holder of the SEP in suit has no impact on both the scope and the enforceability of the above claims [369] .

In the Court’s eyes, the Claimant is bound to the FRAND undertaking made by the previous holder of the SEP in suit towards ETSI [370] . The wording of Article 6.1. ETSI IPR Policy establishes a respective assumption [370] . In any case, the assignee of a SEP abuses its market power, if it is aware of the FRAND-undertaking of its predecessor, but, nevertheless, refuses to fulfil the obligations arising from it [360] . The assignee of an SEP cannot draw benefits from the inclusion of its patent into a standard, without being bound to the FRAND commitment of its predecessor, since the latter enabled the inclusion of the SEP in the standard in the first place [360] . Indeed, antitrust law and particularly Article 101 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) obliges standard development organisations to make the inclusion of patented technology into a standard subject to a FRAND commitment of the patent holder, in order to secure that essential technology will be accessible to users [371] .

Having said that, the Court made clear that SEP holder’s claims for information and rendering of accounts are not limited by the FRAND undertaking [369] . Even if one would assume that such undertaking limits the SEP holder’s claims for damages to the amount of the FRAND royalty (which the Court left undecided), the patent holder would, nevertheless, be entitled, in principle, to information regarding the use of its SEP [369] .

In addition, the Court explained that a FRAND undertaking has also no influence on the enforceability of the claims for damages (on the merits), information and rendering of accounts asserted by the Claimant [369] . In particular, these claims are not subject to the conduct requirements set forth by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the matter Huawei v ZTEHuawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgement dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-130/13. (Huawei requirements or framework) with respect to dominant undertakings in terms of Article 102 TFEU [373] .

The opposite is, on the other hand, the case with respect to the claims for injunction asserted by the Claimant. These claims are not enforceable for the time being, since the Claimant failed to fully comply with the Huawei requirements [374] .

Regarding to the SEP in suit, the Court ruled that the Claimant has a dominant market position in terms of Article 102 TFEU: The patent is essential to the LTE standard, which, in turn, cannot be substituted by an alternative standard (from the users’ point of view) [375] .

Looking at the negotiations between the parties involved, the Court did not see any flaws in the parties’ conduct with respect to the first two steps of the framework; the Claimant had effectively notified the Defendant about the infringing use of its SEP and the Defendant (in fact, its parent company) had effectively declared its willingness to obtain a licence covering also the SEP in suit [360] . In this context, the Court pointed out that the SEP holder’s obligation to notify the user of the infringing use of its SEP is also met, when the respective notification is addressed to the parent company of the (alleged) infringer (as is was the case here, especially with the Claimant’s letter to the parent company dated 29 February 2016) [360] .

However, the Court held that the Claimant failed to fulfil its consequent obligation under the Huawei framework, namely to make a FRAND licensing offer to the Defendant (respectively its parent company) [376] .

The Court considered only two offers made by the Claimant to the Defendant’s parent company prior to the extension of its claims in the pending proceedings on 15 May 2018 (since the other offers made were either indisputably not FRAND or were not produced by the Claimant in trial) [361] .

An offer made in February 2016 was found not to be FRAND in terms of content, since it contained a clause, according to which the licensee was obliged to pay the full amount of the royalties agreed, even if only one patent of the licensed portfolio was valid and used by the Defendant [361] .

The Court reached the same conclusion also with respect to the further offer made by the Claimant on 11 April 2018 (that is short before the Claimant extended its claims in the proceedings, adding the claims for injunction) [377] . The Court held that this offer did not comply with the Huawei requirements, since the Defendant was not given sufficient time to assess the offer and eventually make a counter-offer to the Claimant, before the latter asserted the claims for injunction against him in the proceedings [361] .

In the Court’s eyes, a licensing offer complying with the Huawei requirements is only given, when the SEP holder provides the SEP user with all information required from assessing the FRAND conformity of the offer [378] . Only then, the SEP user’s consequent obligation under the Huawei framework to make a FRAND counter-offer to the SEP holder is triggered [378] . In particular, the SEP holder must make the requested royalty amount transparent with reference to a standard licensing programme implemented in the market or to rates actually paid by third parties to a patent pool, covering also patents relevant to the standard [378] . For the assessment of the non-discriminatory character of the offer, information on comparable agreements is needed [378] .

Based on the above considerations, the Court held that the period of 22 workdays between the presentation of the comparable agreements to the parent company (11 April 2018) and the assertion of the injunction claims in the proceedings by the Defendant (15 May 2018) was too short for a competent assessment of the Claimant’s licensing offer [379] . The fact that the Defendant (and/or its parent company) would have had sufficient time to react to the Claimant’s offer until the end of the oral hearings in mid-July 2018 was considered irrelevant by the Court in this respect [379] . The Huawei framework aims at preventing the situation, in which the SEP user agrees to unfavourable licensing conditions under the pressure of pending infringement proceedings (defined by the Court as “patent hold-up”) [379] . In case that the SEP holder has not fulfilled the Huawei requirements prior to the initiation of proceedings (as it was the case here), it has to make sure that the parties can again negotiated without the pressure of an ongoing trial, for instance by asking the court to stay its proceedings pursuant to Article 251 of the German Court of Civil Procedure [380] . Otherwise, the initiation of the infringement proceedings shall be considered as abusive in terms of antitrust law [380] . In the present case, the Claimant chose to not ask for a stay in the proceedings, ignoring the Court’s respective indication [380] .


C. Other issues

The Court explained that the registration in the patent register allows the registered patent holder to assert the patent rights in court [381] . On the other hand, it does not define the ownership of the patent in material legal terms [382] . Nevertheless, the patent registration establishes an assumption of ownership which must be rebutted by the defendant in infringement proceedings based on concrete indications [383] .

Besides that, the Court pointed out that a stay in the infringement proceedings (pursuant to Article 148 of the German Code of Civil Procedure) until the end of parallel invalidation proceedings concerning the patent(s) in suit can be considered only under special circumstances [384] . As a rule, it must be expected with a sufficient degree of probability that the patent(s) in suit will be invalidated [384] . The Defendant failed convince the Court that this was the case with the SEP in suit [384] .

  • [357] District Court of Mannheim, judgment dated 28 September 2018, Case-No. 7 O 165/16, page 2 and 23.
  • [358] Ibid, page 23 et seq.
  • [359] Ibid, page 5.
  • [360] Ibid, page 25.
  • [361] Ibid, page 26.
  • [362] Ibid, pages 5 et seq.
  • [363] Ibid, page 6.
  • [364] Ibid, page 19.
  • [365] Ibid,page 23.
  • [366] Ibid, pages 16 et seqq.
  • [367] Ibid, page 20.
  • [368] Ibid, page 21.
  • [369] Ibid, page 22.
  • [370] Ibid, page 24.
  • [371] Ibid, pages 24 et seq.
  • [372] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgement dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-130/13.
  • [373] District Court of Mannheim, judgment dated 28 September 2018, Case-No. 7 O 165/16, pages 22.
  • [374] Ibid,pages 23 and 25.
  • [375] Ibid, page 23.
  • [376] Ibid, pages 23 and 25 et seq.
  • [377] Ibid, pages 26 et seqq.
  • [378] Ibid, page 27.
  • [379] Ibid, page 28.
  • [380] Ibid, page 29.
  • [381] Ibid, page 10.
  • [382] Ibid, pages 10 et seq.
  • [383] Ibid, page 11.
  • [384] Ibid, page 30.

Updated 30 October 2018

­Vodafone v Intellectual Ventures, High Court of Ireland

English/Irish court decisions
10 March 2017 - Case No. 2016 5102P, [2017] IEHC 160

A. Facts

The Claimant, Vodafone GmbH, is a German company offering communication services in Germany, including DSL internet connections based on the standards ADSL2+ and VDSL2 [629] .

The first Defendant, Intellectual Ventures II LLC (IV LLC), is a US company that holds patents declared as essential to the above standards (Standard Essential Patents or SEPs), including German designations of several European patents [630] . The second Defendant, Intellectual Ventures International Licensing (IV Licensing), is an Irish company engaged in patent licensing [630] . IV LLC granted IV Licensing a sub-licence which allows the latter to grant non-exclusive licences in respect to IV LLC’s portfolio [631] .

In January 2016, IV LLC brought infringement actions against the Claimant before the District Court (Landgericht) of Düsseldorf in Germany (Düsseldorf Court) based on the German designation of two of its SEP relating to the ADSL2+ and VDSL2 standards (German proceedings) [632] . In the German proceedings, IV LLC sought for a declaration that the Claimant is liable for damages arising from the infringement of the SEPs in suit as well as the provision of information and the rendering of accounts [632] .

During the course of the German proceedings, IV Licensing made an offer for a licensing agreement to the Claimant comprising the German designations of sixteen European Patents, including the two patents already asserted before the Düsseldorf Court [633] . The Claimant made a counter-offer which was, however, rejected [634] .

Subsequently, the Claimant filed an action for a declaratory judgement against the Defendants before the Dublin High Court (High Court) in Ireland (Irish proceedings). The Claimant requested the High Court inter alia to declare (1) that IV Licensing’s offer was not Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) and, therefore, amounted to an abuse of dominant position contrary to Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) and (2) that Claimant’s counter-offer was FRAND [635] . In case that the High Court held that neither IV Licensing’s offer nor Claimant’s counter-offer were FRAND, the Claimant also sought for a declaration as to which terms and conditions would be FRAND [635] .

The Defendants challenged the jurisdiction of the High Court. They requested the High Court – among other motions – to decline jurisdiction in favour of the Düsseldorf Court, or, in the alternative to stay its proceedings [636] .

With the present judgment the High Court refused to decline jurisdiction over the dispute brought before it [637] . The Court ordered, however, a stay in the proceedings, until the Düsseldorf Court delivered its final judgment in the German proceedings [637] .

B. Court’s reasoning

The High Court held that neither Article 24 nor Article 29 of the Recast Brussels Regulation [638] require the court to decline jurisdiction in favour of the Düsseldorf Court, even though the German proceedings were initiated prior to the Irish proceedings.

Pursuant to Article 24 of the Regulation, the Courts of each EU Member State have exclusive jurisdiction in proceedings concerned with the validity of any European Patent granted for that Member State. Both pending proceedings concern German designations of IV LLC’s European patens. However, this fact did not hinder the High Court to assume jurisdiction over the present case: In the High Court’s eyes, no issue as to the validity the patents which ought to be licensed has been placed in issue in the Irish proceedings; moreover, no part of Claimant’s cause of action concerning the (alleged) abuse of dominance depends in any way on the validity of the SEPs in suit [639] .

Furthermore, the High Court found that Article 29 of the Regulation does not apply to the present case, either. The High Court took the view that the Irish proceedings and the German proceedings do not involve the “same cause of action”, as Article 29 of the Regulation requires [640] . Although there are overlapping issues in both proceedings (for instance, Article 102 TFEU is mentioned in parties’ pleadings in both trials), this fact does not suffice to establish a “same cause of action” in terms of Article 29 of the Regulation [640] . In particular, Article 102 TFEU, to the extent that it features in the German proceedings is not concerned with an (alleged) abuse of dominant position by way of the offer made to the Claimant by IV Licensing [640] . Besides that, the High Court also pointed out, that – at least regarding to IV Licensing – it is not presented with proceedings “between the same parties” (since IV Licensing in not party to the German proceedings) which is, however, a further prerequisite for the application of Article 29 of the Regulation [641] .

Notwithstanding the above, the High Court held that some form of relief under Article 30 of the Regulation ought to be granted to the Defendants [642] . Under this provision, a court is allowed (meaning that the power given to the court is discretionary) to either stay its proceedings (Article 30 para. 1) or decline jurisdiction (Article 30 para. 2), in case that a “related action” is already pending before another court [643] . The objective of Article 30 of the Regulation is “to improve co-ordination of the exercise of judicial functions” within the EU and to avoid “irreconcilable judgments” [644] . In the matter at hand, the High Court found that these ob­jectives are served by an order to stay the proceedings according to Article 30 para. 1 of the Regulation [637] .

Looking at the present case, the High Court explained that a risk of “irreconcilable judgments” exists, since at the heart of both the Irish and the German proceedings lies the question whether the parties have complied with their conduct obligations under the judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU in the matter Huawei v ZTE [645] (Huawei requirements), especially with the obligation to exchange licensing offers on FRAND terms [646] .

In the Irish Proceedings, the claims made by the Claimant expressly address this question. In the German Proceedings, the same question will be of “direct relevance” for the nature and scope of the claim for damages and the accessory claim for the rendering of accounts asserted by IV LLC [647] . Although compliance with the Huawei requirements is – in contrast to claims for injunctive relief – no direct prerequisite for the enforcement of SEP holder’s damage claims (including the auxiliary claims for information and the rendering of accounts) [648] , it has an impact on the scope of such claims: according to the case law of the Düsseldorf Courts, if the patent holder does not meet the Huawei requirements or both the patent holder and the potential licensee comply with the Huawei requirements, the patent holder’s damage claim is limited to the FRAND licence fees and the claim for the rendering of accounts is limited to the information needed in order to calculate the respective damages (using the so-called “licence analogy” method) [649] . Accordingly, the Düsseldorf Court would not be able to decide on the merits of the claims raised by IV LLC before it, without first determining whether the parties fulfilled the Huawei requirements [650] .

In addition, the High Court pointed out that setting the FRAND terms and conditions for the patent portfolio offered to the Claimant, as the latter requested in the Irish proceedings, could also lead to “irreconcilable judgments”, particularly if the Düsseldorf Court would be asked by IV LLC at a later point in time to fix the damages for the two SEPs asserted in the German proceedings (since these SEPs were also part of the portfolio offered) [651] . Insofar, the High Court was not convinced by the Claimant’s argument, that fixing of rates for a patent portfolio usually involves different considerations to the fixing of a rate for individual patents [651] . On the contrary, the High Court recognized that within the “longstanding industry practice” of portfolio licensing, the fixing of rates for a portfolio of patents does, in general, involve the same methodology as the fixing of rates for individual patents. Consequently, rates set by the High Court in the Irish proceedings might conflict with any rates determined by the Düsseldorf Court with respect to the damage claims made in the German proceedings [651] .

  • [629] Vodafone v Intellectual Ventures, High Court of Ireland, 10 March 2017, para. 1.
  • [630] Ibid, para. 2.
  • [631] Ibid, para. 3.
  • [632] Ibid, para. 37.
  • [633] Ibid, paras. 10-12 and 93.
  • [634] Ibid, paras. 13-16.
  • [635] Ibid, para. 5.
  • [636] Ibid, para. 7.
  • [637] Ibid, para. 180.
  • [638] Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12th December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (recast), OJ L 351/1 of 20th December 2012.
  • [639] Vodafone v Intellectual Ventures, High Court of Ireland, 10 March 2017, para. 122.
  • [640] Ibid, para. 146.
  • [641] Ibid, para. 148.
  • [642] Ibid, para. 166.
  • [643] Ibid, para. 119.
  • [644] Ibid, para. 165.
  • [645] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13.
  • [646] Vodafone v Intellectual Ventures, High Court of Ireland, 10 March 2017, para. 52.
  • [647] Ibid, paras. 52 and 60.
  • [648] Ibid, paras. 55 et seqq.
  • [649] Ibid, para. 61 et seq.
  • [650] Ibid, para. 62.
  • [651] Ibid, para. 93.