Case Law post CJEU ruling Huawei v ZTE

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Updated 22 August 2018

TQ Delta LLC v Zyxel Communications and Ors., EWHC

English court decisions
13 June 2018 - Case No. HP-2017-000045, [2018] EWHC 1515 (Ch)

A. Facts

The Claimant acquired patents which were declared as essential to the DSL standard under the so-called "ITU Recommen¬dations" (Standard Essential Patents, or SEPs) from a company called Aware Inc [1] . The ITU Recommendations require from the SEP holder to make its patents accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions [2] . The Defendants manufacture and sell various types of equipment complying with the DSL standard [2] .

The Claimant asserted claims against the Defendants before the UK High Court of Justice (Court) based on two SEPs it holds [3] . The proceedings involve, on the one hand, technical issues concerning the validity, essentiality and infringement of the SEPs in question and, on the other hand, the licensing of these SEPs on FRAND terms [4] .

Prior to service of the statements of case, the Court ordered the Claimant to disclose licence agreements concluded with third parties covering the SEPs in suit (comparable agreements) [5] . The Claimant entered into licences with two companies (in the following referred to as "counterparty A" and "counterparty B") [6] and also possesses copies of licences previously granted by Aware Inc. to other SEP users [7] . Counterparty A and Aware Inc. argued that their licence agreements can only be disclosed on an "external eyes only" basis (that is only towards i.e. external counsels and independent experts), since they contain confidential information, such as party names, pricing terms and other commercial information [8] . Counterparty B did not object to the disclosure of its licence agreement to the Defendant (provided that this would take place on a confidential basis), but argued that any other confidential information provided to the Claimant in the course of negotiations for the licence can only be disclosed to "external eyes only" [9] .

The Claimant suggested that the parties to the proceedings enter into a co-called "Confidentiality Club Agreement". The agreement proposed by the Claimant differentiated between "Confidential Infor-mation" and "Highly Confidential Information" [10] . Whether information is designated as "Confidential" or "Highly Confidential" would be determined by the disclosing party [10] . Information designated as "Highly Confidential" would be subject to an "external eyes only" limitation [10] . This limitation would apply to both comparable licences granted by the Claimant and licences granted by Aware Inc. [11] . The Defendants did not agree with the Claimant’s proposal. Instead, they requested that two named individuals from the Defendant’s group should be given access to the comparable licences [10] .

The Court did not approve the establishment of an "external eyes only" mechanism as suggested by the Claimant [12] and ordered disclosure of the comparable licences. Nevertheless, the Court temporarily stayed that order to give the third parties affected (counterparties A and B and Aware Inc.) the opportunity to set it aside or vary it, before disclosure of the comparable licences is made [13] .

B. Court’s reasoning

In the Court’s eyes, it is "common practice" in patent cases for parties to reach Confidentiality Club Agreements [10] ; such agreements are "often essential", when disclosure of confidential information is required in court proceedings [14] . In cases involving intellectual property rights, a mechanism for disclosure limiting access to confidential documents to specific representatives of one of the parties is considered "commonplace" [14] . Furthermore, documents can be redacted to exclude confidential material which is irrelevant to the dispute [14] .

Looking particularly at "external eyes only" mechanisms, the Court takes the view that such mechanisms can be included in Confidentiality Club Agreements upon agreement of the parties (as it was the case in the matter Unwired Planet v Huawei [15] ) [16] . If no agreement can be reached on such a provision, parties can request the Court to restrict access to specified documents to "external eyes only" [7] .

The Court finds, however, that such a confidentiality regime can be applied only to exceptional cases [17] . An "external eyes only" mechanism enables one party to exclude access to any document that it chooses, placing the burden of seeking access to documents to the opposing party, despite the fact that the latter is prima facie entitled to such access [18] . In the Court’s view, the opposite should rather be the case: The party wishing to limit access to documents to "external eyes only" should be obliged to justify that limitation [19] .

According to the Court, when determining whether "external eyes only" restrictions should be ordered, the role which the affected documents are expected to play in the case must be considered [20] . Where the documents are of limited, if any, relevance to the proceedings and their disclosure could be unnecessarily damaging for the party asserting confidentiality, ordering an "external eyes only" limitation may be justified in specific cases [14] (insofar the Court adopts the notion expressed in the matter IPCom v HTC [21] ). Furthermore, the Court did not rule out that in certain exceptional cases an "external eyes only" mechanism might also be justified with respect to specific documents of "greater relevance", at least at an interim stage of the proceedings [22] .

When it comes to documents key to the case, the Court finds, however, that the "blanket exclusion" of access to such documents enabled through "external eyes only" mechanisms is not in line with the right to a fair hearing stipulated by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the principles of natural justice . Such a regime is further incompatible with the obligation of lawyers to share all relevant information of which they are aware with their clients . If key documents were to be subject to an "external eyes only" restriction, the opposing party would be unable to discuss the respective documents with its legal representative, to attend parts of the trial and to see all of the reasons for the judgment .

Against this background, the Court held that in the present case, approving the establishment of an "ex-ternal eyes only" mechanism as suggested by the Claimant would "merely postpone the resolution of the dispute" . The Court had ordered the disclosure of the comparable licences, because they are, or are likely to be, key documents in the above sense . Since the Court may be asked to decide on a FRAND licence which must be reasonable and non-discriminatory, existing licence agreements entered into by the Claimant (and its pre¬decessor, Aware Inc.) may be highly relevant documents as comparators .

  • [1] TQ Delta LLC v Zyxel Communications, UK High Court of Justice, 13 June 2018, Case-No. HP-2017-000045, [2018] EWHC 1515 (Ch), para. 2.
  • [2] Ibid, para. 3.
  • [3] Ibid, para. 1.
  • [4] Ibid, para. 1. With respect to the relationship between the 'technical trials' (that means the proceedings concerning the validity, essentiality and infringement of the SEPs in suit) and the 'non-technical trial' regarding to FRAND licensing see, TQ Delta LLC v Zyxel Communications, UK High Court of Justice, 21 November 2017, Case-No. HP-2017-000045, [2017] EWHC 3305 (Pat)
  • [5] TQ Delta LLC v Zyxel Communications, UK High Court of Justice, 13 June 2018, Case-No. HP-2017-000045, [2018] EWHC 1515 (Ch), paras. 25 and 30.
  • [6] Ibid, para. 25.
  • [7] Ibid, para. 25.
  • [8] Ibid, paras. 26 and 28.
  • [9] Ibid, para. 27.
  • [10] Ibid, para. 4.
  • [11] Ibid, para. 22.
  • [12] Ibid, paras. 34 et seqq.
  • [13] Ibid, para. 35.
  • [14] Ibid, para. 23.
  • [15] Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK High Court of Justice, 5 April 2017, Case-No. HP-2014-000005, [2017] EWHC 711 (Pat).
  • [16] TQ Delta LLC v Zyxel Communications, UK High Court of Justice, 13th June 2018, Case-No. HP-2017-000045, [2018] EWHC 1515 (Ch), para. 23.
  • [17] Ibid, para. 21.
  • [18] Ibid, paras. 21 and 34.
  • [19] Ibid, para. 34.
  • [20] Ibid, para. 15.
  • [21] IPCom GmbH and Co KG v HTC Europe Co. Limited and ors, judgement dated 23 January 2013, Case No. HC11 C02064, [2013] EWHC 52 (Pat).
  • [22] TQ Delta LLC v Zyxel Communications, UK High Court of Justice, 13 June 2018, Case-No. HP-2017-000045, [2018] EWHC 1515 (Ch), para. 23.

Updated 6 March 2018

OLG Düsseldorf

OLG Düsseldorf
18 July 2017 - Case No. I-2 U 23/17

A. Facts

The Claimant is holder of a patent declared as essential to a standard (Standard Essential Patent, SEP). The Defendant is a provider of telecommuni­cation services. Under the policy governing the relevant standard, the Claimant is obliged to license its SEP on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions. Against Claimant’s SEP a nullity action is pending. The Claimant, nevertheless, concluded portfolio licensing agreements also covering the SEP in question with two companies.

Since November 2012, the Claimant made efforts to license his SEP also to the Defendant. The parties could, however, not reach an agreement. In January 2016, the Claimant brought an action against the Defendant before the Regional Court of Düsseldorf requesting for a declaration of the Defendant’s liability for damages as well as rendering of accounts (main proceedings). After the main proceedings were ini­tiated, the Claimant made two offers for a license agreement to the Defendant. In order to protect busi­ness secrets connected with these offers, the Claimant requested the Defendant to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). The Defendant refused to sign a NDA. Moreover, the Defendant brought an action against the Claimant before an Irish Court requesting for a declaration that Claimant’s offers did not comply with FRAND.

Subsequently, the Claimant filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Defendant before the Regional Court of Düsseldorf. The Regional Court of Düsseldorf dismissed Claimant’s motion. The Claimant appealed this judgement. With the present ruling the competent Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf in­dicated that the Claimant’s appeal has no prospects of success.

B. Court’s reasoning

The court made clear that preliminary injunctions involving SEPs are subject to the same strict prerequi­sites as injunctions referring to non-SEPs. The SEP-holder has, therefore, to adequately establish the va­lidity of the SEP, its use by the alleged infringer as well as the urgency of its request for a preliminary injunction.

Besides this, prior to seeking for a preliminary injunction, the SEP holder also has to fulfill the require­ments set forth by the Court of Justice of the European Union in its decision in the matter Huawei ./. ZTE (Huawei judgement). This follows from the fact that SEP-holders’ claims for injunctive relief are, in prin­ciple, only enforceable, after the prerequisites established by the Huawei judgement have been fully met.

Since preliminary injunctions may severely affect alleged infringer’s ongoing business, such injunctions can only be granted, when both the validity and the use of the SEP by the alleged infringer appear to be given with a high degree of certainty.

The validity of a SEP is deemed to be given, when the SEP has been confirmed in patent opposition or nullity proceedings. Without a prior confirming decision, the validity of a SEP can, exceptionally, also be regarded as being given, when

  • the alleged infringer has unsuccessfully intervened in the proceedings, in which the SEP was granted,
  • no opposition or nullity proceedings were initiated against the SEP, because it is universally consid­ered to be able to receive patent protection (one indication for this being, for instance, the fact that the SEP was licensed to renowned licensees),
  • the objections raised against SEP’s validity can be proven to be unfounded even by the limited means of the summary examination foreseen in proceedings for interim relief, as well as
  • in “extraordinary circumstances”, in which the SEP-holder will face substantial disadvantages, if he is forced to wait with the initiation of proceedings against the infringer, until after the end of opposition or nullity proceedings pending against the SEP.

Against this background, the court argued that the Claimant is most likely not entitled to the requested preliminary injunction.

First, the Claimant failed to establish the validity of the SEP in dispute with the required high degree of certainty. A decision confirming the SEP in dispute is missing, since the nullity proceedings are still pending. Furthermore, the exceptions allowing this conclusion to be drawn, even without a prior con­firming decision, do most likely not apply. In particular, the fact that the Claimant concluded portfolio licensing agreements with two other companies covering also the SEP in question, does not suffice to adequately establish its validity. This fact only proves that the licensees held the SEP-holder’s portfolio as being able to receive patent protection as a whole, not, however, that they considered the SEP itself as being worthy of such protection. Furthermore, due to the high level of technical complexity, the court does not expect that the objections raised against the validity of the SEP can be proven as being unfounded solely on basis of the limited examination means available to the court in the present pro­ceedings for interim relief.

Second, the court has also substantial doubts that urgency is given. The Claimant was aware of the alleged infringement since 2012. Nevertheless, the Claimant refrained from making his claim for injunctive relief enforceable by fulfilling the Huawei judgement requirements. Furthermore, in the main proceedings ini­tiated prior to the present proceedings for preliminary injunction, the Claimant did not request for injunc­tive relief, but limited his action against the Defendant to damages and rendering of accounts. In terms of urgency, it could be expected from the Claimant to request for injunctive relief already in the main proceedings. Furthermore, the fact that the Defendant brought an action before an Irish Court requesting a declaration that Claimant’s offers did not comply with FRAND, also fails to establish urgency. It is the Defendant’s right to seek legal redress.

C. Other issues

In addition, the court expressed its view regarding the consequences of the refusal of a potential licensee to sign a NDA covering information connected with the SEP-holder’s offer for a licensing agreement on FRAND terms, without, however, ruling on this question on the merits of the present case.

The court suggested that the unjustified refusal of a licensee to enter into a NDA does not release the SEP-holder from the obligations established by the Huawei judgement, namely the obligation to make a FRAND offer to the licensee and specify the underlying conditions (particularly the price calculation). An unjusti­fied refusal of the licensee to sign a NDA shall, however, lead to easing the SEP-holder’s burden to provide the licensee with detailed explanations regarding the justification of its licensing conditions, to the extent that this is required for protecting its justified confidentiality interests. Instead of detailed information, “merely indicative observations would, basically, suffice. The licensee cannot object the FRAND con­formity of the SEP-holder’s offer based on the insufficient specification of the licensing terms.
Updated 26 January 2017

Sisvel v ZTE, Tribunale Ordinario di Torino

Italian court decisions
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. [15]
    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. [16] 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.
  • [15] Case No. 30308/20215 R.G., para. 3
  • [16] Case No. 30308/20215 R.G., para. 5, a-c

Updated 26 January 2017

Sisvel v ZTE, Tribunale Civile e Penale di Torino, Sezione I Civile

Italian court decisions
4 March 2016 - Case No. 2695/2016 R.G.

Additional information: Sezione I Civile, specializzata in materia di impresa (specialized in enterprise issues).

  1. Facts
    The proceedings before the Tribunale Civile e Penale di Torino concerned the appeal of Claimant in Case No. 30308/20215 R.G. seeking to set aside the decision of the court of first instance. As to the facts of the case, it can be referred to the summary of that case above.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    Due to non-compliance with the minimum duration of the NDA, including apactum de non petendo in connection to ZTE Corporation and its affiliates (such as Defendant I), of three years until 3 September 2016, Claimant’s unilateral termination of the agreement by letter as of 13 October 2014 and the subsequent initiation of proceedings were declared inadmissible. Claimant validly waived its right to bring actions under Italian law and it cannot circumvent this obligation by paying damages. According to the wording of the agreement, a lack of reaction on the part of ZTE Corporation was not to be interpreted as a waiver of rights.
  3. Other important issues
    Claimant argued that the patents in question never were essential to the UMTS standard and, hence, there existed no FRAND licensing obligation. The court rejected the appeal because Claimant’s action before the court of first instance was based on exactly the opposite argumentation (i.e. the patents in question being essential to the UMTS standard).

Updated 6 June 2017

OLG Düsseldorf

OLG Düsseldorf
14 December 2016 - Case No. I-2 U 31/16

  1. Facts
    The Claimant is holder of a patent declared as essential to a standard (Standard Essential Patent, SEP). The Defendant is a telecommunications company, which inter alia sells mobile phones allegedly using Claimant’s SEPs. Upon Claimant’s action, the Regional Court of Düsseldorf (1) ordered the Defendant to render accounts regarding the sales of mobile phones embedding Claimant’s SEPs and (2) recognized Defendant’s obligation to pay damages to the Claimant resulting from the infringement of its SEPs (cf. Regional Court of Düsseldorf, decision dated 19th January 2016, Case No. 4b O 49/14). The Defendant appealed this judgement. In the appeal proceedings before the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf (Case No. 2 U 31/16), one issue in dispute was whether the license fees, which the Claimant had calculated, were Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND). The Claimant explained its calculation in a statement to the court that was produced in two versions. In the first version, which was filed only with the court, the information regarding the FRAND calculation (including comparable license agreements pre¬sented as evidence), were fully disclosed. In the second version, which was presented to the Defendant and a third party that had joined the proceedings (Intervener), the respective sections (and evidence) were redacted.
    With the present interlocutory application, the Claimant requested the court to order that disclosure of full information (and evidence) regarding its FRAND calculation shall be required only towards Defendant’s and Intervenor’s counsels, provided that the court would oblige the counsels to full confi-dentiality towards everyone, including their clients themselves (that is the Defendant and the Intervener). The Defendant objected this request. The Intervener, on the other hand, stated that it agreed with the proceeding defined in Claimant’s request.
    In its first decision dated 14th December 2016, the court rejected the application with respect to both the Defendant and the Intervener. Instead, the court encouraged the parties to enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) reinforced by a contractual penalty, in case confidentiality was breached.
    This decision was consequently modified by a further decision rendered by the court on 17th January 2017. The court granted Claimant’s application in respect to the Intervener, but again rejected the application in respect to the Defendant. The court, however, requested from the Defendant to present an offer for an NDA to the Claimant incorporating particularly the following conditions within a deadline of three weeks:
    • The confidential information should be used only in the context of the present litigation.
    • The information would be made available only to four company representatives of the Defendant (as well as any experts engaged by the Defendant in the ongoing litigation).
    • These persons shall be themselves obliged to confidentiality by the Defendant.
    • In case confidentiality was breached, the Defendant shall be liable for payment of a contractual pen-alty amounting to EUR 1 million.

  2. Court’s Reasoning
    In its first decision, the court found that the German rules of Civil Procedure do not provide a legal basis for granting an order in the form requested by the Claimant. [63] Such an order would exclude Defendant’s right to be heard with respect to Claimant’s FRAND calculation, in breach of Art. 103 Sec. 1 of the German Constitutional Law (Grundgesetz). [63] The fact that Defendant’s counsels would have access to the relevant information, does not suffice to meet the requirements set forth by the aforementioned provision. Party’s right to be heard contains also the right to personally participate in the proceedings. Consequently, a limitation of a party’s right to be heard reaching so far as Claimant requested, is not possible, unless the party affected expressly waives its right to personally participate in the proceedings. [63] Since the Defendant decided to not do so, a respective order cannot be rendered against it.
    The fact that the Intervener waived its respective right, can also not justify rendering such an order against the Defendant. [64] The Intervener does not join the proceedings as a party, but merely in support of one of the parties. [65] Accordingly, it cannot make decisions that would affect the party’s standing, such as a declaration to waive the right to be heard. In the present case, the Intervener’s decision to waive its respective right may, therefore, impact its own standing in the proceedings, but cannot affect Defendant’s position.

    As a result, the Claimant can either make the confidential information available to the Defendant or keep this information redacted, accepting that the court cannot take redacted information into consideration for its decision. [66]

    Notwithstanding the above, under reference to the “Umweltengel für Tragetaschen” judgement of the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) [67] the court held, that, as a rule, it can be expected from the implementer of SEPs to enter into a NDA reinforced by a contractual penalty with the SEP holder. [68] SEP implementer is obliged to facilitate FRAND licensing negotiations to the best of its ability. This includes also taking justified confidentiality interests of the SEP holder into account. [68]

    In its second decision dated 17th January 2017 the court applied the above considerations. Since the Intervener waived its right to be heard, the court found that there is no reason to deny Claimant’s request in relation to the Intervener. On the other hand, due to Defendant’s denial to waive its respective right, the court still refrained for granting Claimant’s request against the Defendant. Taking Claimant’s confi¬dentiality interests into account, the court ordered, however, the Defendant to submit an offer for a NDA to the Claimant based particularly on the conditions mentioned above.
  • [63] Judgement dated 14th December 2016, para. 1
  • [64] Judgement dated 14th December 2016, para. 2
  • [65] Judgement dated 14th December 2016, para. 2
  • [66] Judgement dated 14th December 2016, para. 3
  • [67] Bundesgerichtshof, Decision dated 19th February 2014, Case No. I ZR 230/12
  • [68] Judgement dated 14th December 2016, para. 5

Updated 27 June 2018

OLG Düsseldorf

OLG Düsseldorf
25 April 2018 - Case No. I-2 W 8/18

A. Facts

The Claimant holds a patent essential to a technical standard (Standard Essential Patent or SEP) which is subject to a so-called “FRAND-undertaking”, that is a commitment to make the SEP accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions. The Claimant entered into nego¬tiations for a FRAND licensing agreement with the Defendant. In June 2017, the parties signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). [69] A few days later, the Claimant entered into an NDA also with a third party, the Intervener . Shortly after signing the NDA, the Intervener [70] argued that several clauses of the agreement were void. [71]

In September 2017, the Claimant initiated infringement proceedings against the Defendant before the District Court of Düsseldorf (District Court). The Intervener joined these proceedings in support of the Defendant. After joining the proceedings, the Intervener claimed that the NDA with the Claimant does not cover information which the latter has to produce in the trial. This is particularly the case with infor-mation regarding to comparable licensing agreements concluded by the Claimant with third parties (comparable licences), which the Claimant regarded as strictly confidential. [72]

In December 2017, the Intervener requested full access to the court files. [73] The District Court dismissed the Intervener’s motion in part, namely by excluding access to confidential information, including information on comparable licences. The District Court held that the protection of such information was not adequately ensured, since the Intervener’s behaviour raised significant doubts that he considered himself bound to confidentiality by the NDA signed with the Claimant. [74] The Intervener appealed this decision.

The Higher District Court of Düsseldorf (Court) set the above ruling aside and requested the District Court to further clarify the facts of the case and decide again on the Intervener’s motion for full access to the court files on basis of the principles set forth in its present judgement. [75] In particular, the Court requested from the District Court to (re-)examine whether the Claimant actually possessed confidential business information which needed protection. [75] If this fact could be positively established, then a limited access to the court files would, basically, be justified, if the party seeking access to the files refused to commit itself to confidentiality. [76]

B. Court’s reasoning

The Court pointed out that parties to court proceedings seeking to protect confidential information must undertake efforts to sign an NDA with the opposing party and any intervener that has joined or is expected to join the proceedings with a high degree of certainty, before disclosing such information in the trial. [77] A party doing so without an NDA has to accept that the opposing party and/or the intervener could gain access to confidential information through an inspection of the court files. [78]

In the eyes of the Court, requesting from the party seeking to protect confidential information to actively pursue the conclusion of NDAs with other parties involved in the proceedings does not put that party at a disadvantage. The unjustified refusal of the opposing party (or an intervener) to enter into an NDA allows the party seeking protection to use only non-confidential information in the proceedings for specifying the FRAND conformity of its licensing offer to the potential licensee. [79] Although still obliged to specify the conditions of its FRAND licensing offer, the party has a lower burden to bear; to the extent (and not be¬yond) that is required for protecting its justified confidentiality interests, the party can meet its respective obligation by making “merely indicative observations” in the trial. [80]

In case that an intervener joins the proceedings at a point in time, in which a party has already produced confidential information on grounds of an NDA previously signed with the opposing party, the intervener’s right to inspect the court files can only be limited, if it was (or can) be established that the party seeking protection actually possesses confidential business information. [81] The fact that the other parties involved in the proceedings have already signed an NDA does not of itself limit the intervener’s right to full access to the court files. [82]

To establish that it possesses confidential business information worthy of protection, a party must identify such information and concretely explain why this information constitutes a business secret. [83] The party also needs to present in detail which measures were taken so far for securing confidentiality with respect to the information in question. [83] In addition, the party has to demonstrate in a substantiated and verifiable manner (for each information separately), which concrete disadvantages would be suffered, if the information would be disclosed. [83] It also needs to be explained, with which degree of certainty the said disadvantages are expected to occur. [83]

When protection of confidential information contained in comparable licences is sought, the existence of confidentiality interests requires, in general, special justification. [84] In the Court’s view, the SEP holder’s FRAND-undertaking entails transparency vis-à-vis interested stakeholders with respect to licensing conditions. [84] Moreover, knowledge of licensing conditions already accepted in the market can help potential licensees exercise their rights in infringement proceedings effectively. [84] Considering the non-discriminating element of SEP holder’s FRAND undertaking, it is not immediately apparent to the Court which interest worthy of legal protection the SEP holder could have in keeping conditions agreed in existing licensing agreements confidential. [84] In fact, several licensing pools (e.g. MPEG) publish their licensing agreements online. [84]

Should the party seeking protection fail to establish that it possesses confidential business information needing protection, full access to the court files must be granted to the intervener upon request, irrespective of whether the latter signs an NDA or not. [85] Conversely, if the existence of confidential business information is established, the intervener’s right to inspect the court files can be limited only to non-confidential information, as long as the intervener refuses to enter into an NDA with the party seeking protection of its confidentiality interests. [76]

In case that a party which has signed an NDA breaches its obligations under this agreement or “backs out” of the NDA, the party relying on the protection of its confidentiality interests can again limit its (future) submissions of facts in the proceedings to non-confidential information. [86] In other words, in terms of detail, the party must again not present information going beyond “merely indicative observations”. [86] Whether a party has “backed out“ of an NDA is a question of fact which has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. [87] For this, it is required that the party’s behaviour has caused a high risk of a breach of confidentiality. [87] For instance, this could be the case, when legal arguments brought by the party against the validity of the NDA are not reasonable, but rather serve as a pretext. [87]

  • [69] Higher District Court of Düsseldorf, judgement dated 25 April 2018, Case No. I-2 W 8/18, para. 26
  • [70] Ibid, para. 26
  • [71] Ibid, para. 32
  • [72] Ibid, para. 35
  • [73] Ibid, para. 2
  • [74] Ibid, para. 27
  • [75] Ibid, para. 36 et seq
  • [76] Ibid, para. 17
  • [77] Ibid, paras 11 and 14
  • [78] Ibid, para. 11
  • [79] Ibid, para. 13
  • [80] Ibid, para. 13
  • [81] Ibid, para. 15
  • [82] Ibid, para. 15 et seq
  • [83] Ibid, para. 23
  • [84] Ibid, para. 24
  • [85] Ibid, para. 16
  • [86] Ibid, para. 20
  • [87] Ibid, para. 21