Case Law post CJEU ruling Huawei v ZTE

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Updated 26 January 2017

Sisvel v Haier

LG Düsseldorf
3 November 2015 - Case No. 4a O 93/14

  1. Facts
    Claimant, a non-practicing entity, is the proprietor of European patent EP B, originally granted to the applicant “A”, allegedly covering a feature of the GPRS standard, and being part of Claimant’s patent portfolio “H Wireless Patent Program” which purportedly encompasses patents essential to various ICT standards. Defendants “I” and “J” produce and market GPRS-based devices. On 10 April 2013, Claimant made a commitment towards ETSI declaring to grant a license on FRAND terms with regard to, inter alia, patent EP B. By letters as of 20 December 2012, 22 August 2013 and 11 November 2013, as well as in meetings on 17 February 2014 Claimant informed the parent company of Defendants “I” and “J” about the “H Wireless Patent Program” and made an offer but no licensing agreement was concluded. On 29 August 2014 Claimant made another licensing offer which was refused on 1 September 2014 by Defendant “J” without a counter-offer. By letter as of 12 August 2015 Defendants submitted a counter-offer regarding patent EP B which was, in turn, refused by Claimant on 24 August 2015. After Claimant had brought an action against “I” and “J”, Defendants made yet another licensing offer in their court filing as of 21 September 2015 which was refused as well. In the course of the oral hearings on 29 September 2015, Defendants submitted a security in the amount of € 5000 and rendered account in respect of acts of use in the past.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. Market power and notice of infringement
      The court left open the question of whether the SEP conferred market power to Claimant since it did, in any case, find no abuse of such potential market power (cf. below). As to the infringement notification, [1] the court did not decide whether the meetings with individual companies of the group to which Defendants belong already satisfied the requirements established by the ECJ. Since, in the present case, Claimant filed its actions before the judgment in Huawei v ZTE was rendered the court considered it sufficient that the infringer was alerted of the infringement through the statement of claims: The rules of conduct established by the German Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in its Orange Book-ruling do not require the patent holder to give notice or submit a licensing offer prior to suing a (purportedly) infringing standard implementer. Although Orange Book addressed a de facto Standard and was heavily criticized by scholars and the EU Commission alike, it was being applied by German lower courts to de jure standards until the ECJ handed down its Huawei decision. In consequence, Claimant could—prior to the Huawei decision—reasonably consider itself to comply with the law by acting in accordance with the Orange Book rules. In terms of content, the District Court left undecided the question whether of the infringement notification must only indicate the patent for which prohibitory injunction is sought, whether—on the contrary—reference to other IP rights with respect to which a license is offered has to be made, or whether such additional reference is relevant only in determining FRAND licensing conditions. The court also left open whether the alleged infringer must accept a FRAND offer since the patent holder has then fulfilled its obligations according to antitrust law and thus there is no room for a counter-offer.

    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      As regards the Huawei requirement to present the alleged infringer with a specific, written offer for a license on FRAND terms, three statements of the district court deserve attention: Firstly, the SEP holder is in compliance with the ECJ conditions if the licensing offer is submitted not to all individual companies within a group but to the group parent only. Secondly, the court did not decide on whether an offer providing for a worldwide portfolio license and encompassing also non-SEPs could be considered as FRAND because, thirdly, the alleged infringers did not comply with their duties of conduct under Huawei (cf. below). [2]

    3. The standard implementer’s reaction
      According to the court even if the patent proprietor’s licensing offer is not FRAND-compliant, a standard implementer would still have to respond to that offer. The question of whether the alleged infringer may respond to a non-FRAND offer in a different manner than by submitting a specific counter-offer, in particular by merely demonstrating that the SEP owner’s offer was not FRAND, was left undecided. [3] Since Defendants decided to submit a counter-offer, the court stated that they were obliged to render account in respect of acts of use and to provide security for potential royalties, both based on their counter-offer and starting with the refusal of the first counter-offer, regardless of whether subsequent offers and counter-offers were formulated. These obligations also apply to “transitional” cases in which the (first) counter-offer has been rejected before the Huawei ruling because the—previously applicable—Orange Book-rules of conduct were even more demanding for the standard implementer. In the present case, Defendants did not comply with this prerequisite because they rejected, on 1 September 2014, the offers presented by Claimant on 17 February and 29 August 2014 without formulating any counter-offer, submitting such a counter-offer only belatedly, on 12 August 2015. [4] Furthermore, Defendants did not comply with their duties to render account and to provide security because they did so only on 29 September 2015, i.e. more than one month after their first counter-offer had been rejected by the claimant on 24 August 2015. [5]

  3. Other important issues
    In addition to its considerations regarding Huawei, the court deliberated on two other important issues: 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 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. [6] Furthermore, no patent ambush-defense based on § 242 BGB could successfully be raised because, firstly, Defendants could not substantiate the alleged patent ambush by “A” (being the original SEP proprietor); secondly, the alleged patent ambush would, arguably, have resulted only in a FRAND licensing obligation while, thirdly, Claimant had declared its willingness to grant a license on FRAND terms anyway. [7]
  • [1]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 90-94
  • [2]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 96-98, 125
  • [3]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 98-101
  • [4]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 14, 103-109
  • [5]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 103-111
  • [6]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 37-40
  • [7]  Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 118-123

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 [1] 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’). [2] 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. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] 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. [6]

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. [7] 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. [8] On this basis, the District Could held that the claimant had taken all necessary steps after commencing proceedings, which met the Huawei/ZTE requirements. [9]

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. [10] 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. [5] 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. [11] 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. [12]

The offer needs to include the calculation method in respect of the royalties. [11] However, the CJEU did not elaborate on the level of detail required. [13] 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. [14]

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. [13] 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. [15] The defendant’s counter-offer only included the respective German license, which was deemed by the District Court as insufficient. [15] Further, the defendant had not made an adequate deposit into the court as required under the Huawei/ZTE principles. [16]

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. [13]

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. [17] 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. [18] 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. [18]

  • [1] See also OLG Karlsruhe, 8 September 2016, 6 U 58/16 (application to stay execution of LG Mannheim, 7 O 24/14).
  • [2]  LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 4-6.
  • [3] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 2-3.
  • [4] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 22.
  • [5] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 23.
  • [6] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 34/35.
  • [7] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 26.
  • [8] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 27-30.
  • [9] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 33.
  • [10] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 21.
  • [11] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 24.
  • [12] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 37.
  • [13] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 25.
  • [14] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 35/36.
  • [15] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 38.
  • [16] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, pp. 38-40.
  • [17] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 43.
  • [18] LG Mannheim, 4 March 2016, 7 O 24/14, p. 44.

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. [72]
    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. [73] 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.
  • [72] Case No. 30308/20215 R.G., para. 3
  • [73] Case No. 30308/20215 R.G., para. 5, a-c

Updated 20 April 2017

Wiko v Sisvel, Tribunal de Commerce de Marseille

French court decisions
20 September 2016 - Case No. RG: 2016F01637

  1. Facts
    Claimant WIKO S.A.S. markets mobile phones as well as telecommunication products and services, produced by its parent company TINNO, in France and Europe. Defendant SISVEL UK LTD is a division of SISVEL INTERNATIONAL and performs the function of an intermediary between manufacturers seeking access to high-level technology and intellectual property rights holders willing to grant licenses to their portfolio. Claimant considers itself a victim of acts of unfair competition committed by Defendant. The latter sent letters to several French distributors and customers of Claimant, such as Carrefour, Casino or LDLC, alerting them that they (purportedly) infringed Claimant’s patents allegedly essential to the LTE standard. In consequence, Claimant sued Defendant before the Tribunal de Commerce de Marseille, seeking, inter alia, a decision declaring Defendant’s letters to be acts of unfair competition, forcing Defendant to issue a notice of revocation, and awarding damages to Claimant.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    The Tribunal de Commerce de Marseille rejected Claimant’s submission regarding the alleged violation of the French rules on unfair competition. Against the background of paras. 61, 63 of the Huawei judgment, requiring the SEP proprietor to alert the alleged infringer about the infringement prior to the initiation of proceedings and to present a specific, written offer for a license on FRAND terms, the Court considered the letters as prior notice in the sense of the Huawei rules of conduct and denied a violation of the French rules on unfair competition. In particular, the court stressed that the documents communicated by Defendant provided an overview including each SEP, its filing date as well as the parts of the LTE standard implementing the respective patented technology. They indicated not only the consequences of acts of unauthorized use and the devices allegedly embodying such use but informed the distributors also about their option to contest both the communicated information and the validity of the patents at issue. Furthermore, Defendant had offered to grant a FRAND license in the sense of the Huawei decision, defined a response period for this offer and attached a terms sheet substantiating the general framework, the basic clauses and, in particular, the royalties of a potential FRAND licensing agreement. The letters did not, however, ask for a cessation of sales of the allegedly infringing products.

Updated 10 April 2019

Huawei v ZTE

CJEU Huawei v ZTE
16 July 2015 - Case No. C-170/13

A. Facts

The Claimant, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., holds a patent declared as essential to the practice of the LTE wireless telecommunication standard (Standard Essential Patent, or SEP) developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) [1] . In March 2009, the Claimant committed towards ETSI to make the patent in question accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions [2] .

The Defendants, ZTE Corp. and ZTE Deutschland GmbH, hold themselves several SEPs relating to the LTE standard [3] and also market, inter alia in Germany, LTE-compliant products [4] .

Between November 2010 and March 2011, the parties engaged into discussions concerning the licensing of the Claimant’s portfolio of SEPs [4] . The Claimant indicated the amount it considered as a reasonable royalty; the Defendants, on the other hand, sought to conclude a cross-licence [5] . An offer for a licensing agreement was, however, not finalized [5] .

In April 2011, the Claimant brought an action against the Defendants before the District Court (Landgericht) of Düsseldorf (District Court), seeking for injunctive relief, the rendering of accounts for past uses, the recall of products and an award for damages for patent infringement [6] .

The District Court stayed its proceedings and submitted a reference for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). In brief, the District Court noted that the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) and the European Commission appeared to have adopted conflicting positions on the question under which conditions an action for a prohibitory injunction brought by a SEP holder against a SEP user constitutes an abuse of dominant position in violation of Article 102 TFEU [7] : In its Orange Book ruling, the German Federal Court of Justice held that, in infringement proceedings concerning SEPs, the defendant is entitled to raise a defence under Article 102 TFEU (and thus avoid an injunction), only and insofar as it submits an unconditional, fair offer to conclude a licence to the patent holder, accounts for past acts of use and also makes a deposit on the royalty payments resulting thereof [8] . The European Commission, on the other hand, in proceedings relating to enforcement actions taken by Samsung against Apple in a number of EU member states, took the view that an action for injunctive relief concerning a SEP may, in principle, infringe Article 102 TFEU to the extent to which the defendant has demonstrated his willingness to negotiate a licence on FRAND terms in accordance with the patent holder’s FRAND commitments [9] .

With the present judgment, the CJEU established the conditions under which a SEP holder can file an action for a prohibitory injunction against a patent user, without violating Article 102 TFEU. In particular, the CJEU ruled that a SEP holder which has given an irrevocable undertaking to make its patents accessible on FRAND terms, does not abuse its dominant position by seeking an injunction and/or the recall of infringing products, as long as – prior to bringing a respective court action – it has

  • firstly, notified the user about the infringement of its patent ‘by designating that patent and specifying the way in which it has been infringed’, and
  • secondly, if the alleged infringer has expressed its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement on FRAND terms, presented to that infringer a specific, written offer for a licence on such terms, specifying, in particular, the royalty and the way in which it is to be calculated[10] .

By contrast, the SEP user may invoke the abusive nature of a patent holder’s action for a prohibitory injunction and/or for the recall of products, only if it responds to SEP holder’s offer without delay [11] . In case that the patent user rejects that offer, it has to

  • submit ‘promptly and in writing, a specific counter-offer that corresponds to FRAND terms’ to the patent holder [12] and
  • if its counter-offer is rejected, provide appropriate security for the use of the patent(s), ‘for example by providing a bank guarantee or by placing the amounts necessary on deposit[13] .

The CJEU made clear that the above framework does not apply to SEP holders’ claims for damages and/or the rendering of accounts in relation to past acts of use; actions concerning these claims cannot infringe Article 102 TFEU, since they have no impact on whether standard compliant products can appear or remain on the market [14] .

B. Court’s Reasoning

The CJEU stressed the need to balance, on the one hand, the effective judicial protection of SEP holders’ fundamental intellectual property rights (IPRs) and, on the other hand, the public interest in free undistorted competition [15] .

Since the parties had not contested that the Claimant held a dominant market position, the Court’s analysis focused on the existence of an ‘abuse’ in terms of Article 102 TFEU [16] . According to the CJEU, the exercise of an IPR cannot ‘in itself’ be abusive, even if it is the act of an undertaking holding a dominant position [17] . Moreover, an action for the enforcement of an IPR can constitute an abuse of dominant position only in “exceptional circumstances[18] .

Cases, in which SEPs are involved, distinguish themselves from other IPR-related cases: First, the fact that the patent has obtained SEP status means that the patent holder can ‘prevent products manufactured by competitors from appearing or remaining on the market and, thereby, reserve to itself the manufacture of the products in question[19] . Besides that, by making a FRAND commitment, the patent holder has created ‘legitimate expectations’ to third parties implementing the standard that the SEP will be accessible on FRAND terms [19] . Having regard to the ‘legitimate expectations’ created, the patent user sued in infringement proceedings can, in principle, defend himself by invoking Article 102 TFEU, in case that the SEP holder refused to grant him a FRAND licence [20] .

Although the SEP holder cannot be deprived of its rights to have recourse to legal proceedings for the protection of its IPRs, the CJEU found that the FRAND undertaking justifies the imposition of an obligation on the SEP holder to comply with specific requirements, when seeking for injunctive relief [21] . In particular, in order to avoid a violation of Article 102 TFEU, the SEP holder should meet the following conditions: (a) prior to the filing of an action for a prohibitory injunction, it must notify the user about the infringement ‘by designating that SEP and specifying the way in which it has been infringed[22] , and (b) submit a specific written offer for a licence on FRAND terms to the user, particularly specifying ‘the royalty and the way in which it is to be calculated’, if the latter has expressed its willingness to enter into such a licence [23] . In this context, the CJEU observed that the SEP holder can be expected to make such an offer, since it is ‘better placed to check whether its offer complies with the condition of non-discrimination than is the alleged infringer’, because, as a rule, no public standard licensing agreement exists and the terms of existing agreements entered by the SEP holder with third parties are not made public [24] .

On the other hand, the (alleged) infringer must diligently respond to the SEP holder’s offer, ‘in accordance with recognised commercial practices in the field and in good faith’ [11] . Whether this is the case must be established on the basis of ‘objective factors’, which implies, in particular, that there are no ‘delaying tactics[11] .

In case that the infringer finds the proposed terms as falling short of the patent holder’s FRAND commitment and chooses to reject the SEP holder’s licensing offer, it must submit a specific written counter-offer on FRAND terms to the SEP holder [12] . If the counter-offer is rejected and the (alleged) infringer already used the SEP in question without a licence, it is obliged to provide ‘appropriate security, in accordance with recognised commercial practices in the field, for example by providing a bank guarantee or by placing the amounts necessary on deposit[13] . The calculation of that security must include, inter alia, ‘the number of the past acts of use of the SEP’, and the alleged infringer must be able to render accounts in respect of those acts of use [13] .

When no agreement is reached following the counter-offer by the (alleged) infringer, the CJEU pointed out that the parties have the option, to request ‘by common agreement’ that the amount of the royalty be determined ‘by an independent third party, by decision without delay[25] .

Finally, the CJEU made clear that the (alleged) infringer is allowed to challenge the validity and/or the essentiality and/or the actual use of SEP holder’s patents in parallel to the licensing negotiations, or to reserve the right to do so in the future [26] .


  • [1] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 6 July 2015, para. 22.
  • [2] Ibid, para. 22.
  • [3] Ibid, para. 40.
  • [4] Ibid, para. 24.
  • [5] Ibid, para. 25.
  • [6] Ibid, para. 27.
  • [7] Ibid, paras. 29 et seqq.
  • [8] Ibid, paras. 30 et seqq
  • [9] Ibid, paras. 34 et seqq
  • [10] Ibid, para. 77.
  • [11] Ibid, para. 65.
  • [12] Ibid, para. 66.
  • [13] Ibid, para. 67.
  • [14] Ibid, paras. 72 et seqq
  • [15] Ibid, para. 42.
  • [16] Ibid, para. 43.
  • [17] Ibid, para. 46.
  • [18] Ibid, para. 47.
  • [19] Ibid, para. 53.
  • [20] Ibid, paras. 53 et seqq
  • [21] Ibid, paras. 58 et seqq
  • [22] Ibid, para. 61.
  • [23] Ibid, para. 63.
  • [24] Ibid, para. 64.
  • [25] Ibid, para. 68.
  • [26] Ibid, para. 69.

Updated 26 January 2017

Sisvel v Haier

LG Düsseldorf
3 November 2015 - Case No. 4a O 144/14

  1. Facts
    The facts of the case are very similar to those of LG Düsseldorf, 3 November 2015 – Case No. 4a O 93/14: Claimant, a non-practicing entity, is the proprietor of the European patent EP D, originally applied for by “A” and formerly owned (after various transfers) by “B”, allegedly covering part of the UMTS standard, and being part of Claimant’s patent portfolio “H Wireless Patent Program” which purportedly encompasses patents essential to various ICT standards. Defendants “I” and “J” produce and market UMTS-based devices. On 10 April 2013 Claimant made a FRAND commitment towards ETSI, inter alia regarding patent EP D. By letters as of 20 December 2012, 22 August 2013 and 11 November 2013, as well as in meetings on 17 February 2014, Claimant informed the parent company of Defendants “I” and “J” about the “H Wireless Program” but no licensing agreement was concluded. On 29 August 2014 Claimant made another licensing offer which was refused on 1 September 2014 by “J” without a counter-offer. By letter as of 13 October 2014 one of the Defendants submitted a first counter-offer regarding patent EP D which Claimant refused on 20 October 2014 referring to the ongoing negotiations with the parent company of that Defendant. On 12 August 2015 Defendants “I” and “J” made a second counter-offer which was rejected by Claimant on 24 August 2015. After Claimant had brought a lawsuit Defendants made a last counter-offer in their court filing as of 22 September 2015 that was also refused by Claimant. In the course of the oral hearings of 29 September 2015, Defendants submitted a security (€ 5000) and rendered account in respect of acts of use in the past.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    Except for references to the slightly differing facts of both cases the court’s considerations are identical to those in the decision LG Düsseldorf, 3 November 2015 – Case No. 4a O 93/14.
    1. Market power and notice of infringement
      The court left open the question of whether the SEP conferred market power to Claimant since it did, in any case, find no abuse of such potential market power (cf. below). As to the infringement notification, [34] the court did not decide whether the meetings with individual companies of the group to which Defendants belong already satisfied the requirements established by the ECJ. Since, in the present case, Claimant filed its actions before the judgment in Huawei v ZTE was rendered the court considered it sufficient that the infringer was alerted of the infringement through the statement of claims: The rules of conduct established by the German Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in its Orange Book-ruling do not require the patent holder to give notice or submit a licensing offer prior to suing a (purportedly) infringing standard implementer. Although Orange Book addressed a de facto Standard and was heavily criticized by scholars and the EU Commission alike, it was being applied by German lower courts to de jure standards until the ECJ handed down its Huawei decision. In consequence, Claimant could—prior to the Huawei decision—reasonably consider itself to comply with the law by acting in accordance with the Orange Book rules.

      In terms of content, the District Court left undecided the question whether of the infringement notification must only indicate the patent for which prohibitory injunction is sought, whether—on the contrary—reference to other IP rights with respect to which a license is offered has to be made, or whether such additional reference is relevant only in determining FRAND licensing conditions. The court also left open whether the alleged infringer must accept a FRAND offer since the patent holder has then fulfilled its obligations according to antitrust law and thus there is no room for a counter-offer.
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      As regards the Huawei requirement to present the alleged infringer with a specific, written offer for a license on FRAND terms, three statements of the district court deserve attention: Firstly, the SEP holder is in compliance with the ECJ conditions if the licensing offer is submitted not to all individual companies within a group but to the group parent only. Secondly, the court did not decide on whether an offer providing for a worldwide portfolio license and encompassing also non-SEPs could be considered as FRAND because, thirdly, the alleged infringers did not comply with their duties of conduct under Huawei (cf. below). [35]
    3. The standard implementer’s reaction
      According to the court, even if the patent proprietor’s licensing offer is not FRAND-compliant, a standard implementer would still have to respond to that offer. The question of whether the alleged infringer may respond to a non-FRAND offer in a different manner than by submitting a specific counter-offer, in particular by merely demonstrating that the SEP owner’s offer was not FRAND, was left undecided. [36] Since Defendants decided to submit a counter-offer, the court stated that they were obliged to render account in respect of acts of use and to provide security for potential royalties, both based on their counter-offer and starting with the refusal of the first counter-offer, regardless of whether subsequent offers and counter-offers were formulated. These obligations also apply to “transitional” cases in which the (first) counter-offer has been rejected before the Huawei ruling because the—previously applicable—Orange Book-rules of conduct were even more demanding for the standard implementer. In the present case, Defendants did not comply with this prerequisite because they rejected, on 1 September 2014, the offers presented by Claimant on 17 February and 29 August 2014 without formulating any counter-offer, submitting such a counter-offer only belatedly, on 12 August 2015. [37] Furthermore, Defendants did not comply with their duties to render account and to provide security because they did so only on 29 September 2015, i.e. more than one month after their first counter-offer had been rejected by the claimant on 24 August 2015. [38]
  3. Other important issues
    In addition to its considerations regarding Huawei, the court deliberated on two other important issues: 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 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. [39] Furthermore, no patent ambush-defense based on § 242 BGB could successfully be raised because, firstly, Defendants could not substantiate the alleged patent ambush by “A” (being the original SEP proprietor); secondly, the alleged patent ambush would, arguably, have resulted only in a FRAND licensing obligation while, thirdly, Claimant had declared its willingness to grant a license on FRAND terms anyway. [40]
  • [34] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 90-94
  • [35] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 96-98, 125
  • [36] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 98-101
  • [37] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 14, 103-109
  • [38] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 103-111
  • [39] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 37-40
  • [40] Case No. 4a O 93/14, para. 118-123

Updated 26 January 2017

Saint Lawrence v Vodafone

LG Düsseldorf
31 March 2016 - Case No. 4a O 73/14

  1. Facts
    Since 28 August 2014 Claimant, a non-practicing entity, is the proprietor of the European patent EP 1 125 276 B1 “J”, originally granted to applicants “Voiceage, and allegedly covering part of the AMR-WB standard. Defendant is a company active in the telecommunications sector and which markets AMR-WB-based devices, inter alia devices produced by the Intervener in this case. After the adoption (“freeze”) of AMR-WB by ETSI on 10 April 2001, Claimant (who was not an ETSI member during the setting of the AMR-WB standard) made, on 29 May 2001, a commitment towards ETSI to grant licenses on FRAND terms inter alia for patent EP J. Claimant and its parent company “O” offer the SEP and all other patents of the same family to third parties by means of a portfolio license. Licensing conditions are accessible on the Internet and various producers in the sector have taken a license under these conditions. Prior to the submission of the patent infringement action on 23 July 2014 and to the advance payments on costs on 29 July 2014, Claimant alerted neither Defendant nor the manufacturer of the contested embodiments, who acted as an intervener in the present proceedings and became aware of the lawsuit in August 2014. By e-mails on 31 July and (as a reminder) on 9 December 2014, the first of which included a copy of the statement of claims and reached the defendant before it was formally served with the statement, Claimant notified the alleged patent violation to Defendant. After Defendant’s reply as of 12 January 2015, Claimant presented a draft licensing agreement to Defendant by letter as of 22 April 2015. On 9 December 2014, the Intervener (HTC) declared willingness to take a license for that patent, inter alia for the patent-in-suit, provided infringement was found in Mannheim’s District Court. It further declared that it would accept royalties determined by a court or arbitration tribunal. Claimant, in turn, offered a licensing agreement by letters as of 12 January 2015 and 25 March 2015 respectively. In the course of meetings taking place since 23 January 2014, [59] Claimant offered a license to the Intervener. On 23 February 2015 and on 2 April 2015 respectively, the Intervener made two licensing offers, including third party determination (arbitration panel or English court) of the amount of royalty, for the whole German patent portfolio of Claimant. An additional offer for a licensing agreement, limited to Germany and implementing a royalty of USD 0.0055 per patent by reference to the “WCDMA Patent Pools”, was made by the Intervener on 6 March 2015 and 24 September 2015 respectively, but it was finally refused by Claimant on 4 October 2015. Moreover, the Intervener provided a bank “guarantee of payment” as of 3 September 2015, being modified by letter as of 10 November 2015, and also rendered account of past and prospective sales in Germany since 2011.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. Market power and notice of infringement
      The court leaves open the question of whether the SEP conferred market power to Claimant since it did, in any case, find no abuse of such potential market power. [60] The court declared the Huawei rules applicable to claims for the recall of products. [61] As regards the Huawei requirement to alert the standard user of the infringement, the decision arrived at various findings of interest: Firstly, the judges found that—in “non-transitional” cases where the lawsuit was brought after the Huawei decision—the infringement notification has to take place before the action is filed, or the latest before the advance payment on costs is made. In transitional cases, such as the present case, a delayed infringement notification, taking place after the advance payment on costs as well as the submission of the court action, but before the statement of claims is served, is admissible. [62] Moreover, an infringement notification could possibly be omitted (in particular) if—as in the present case—the patent user already disposes of all necessary information and lacks willingness to license. [63] In non-transitional cases, however, the court doubts whether it is possible to rectify an omitted infringement notification without withdrawing the action. [64] Secondly, the court specified the minimum content of the infringement notification which has to indicate at least the number of the patent, the contested embodiments and the alleged acts of use performed by the standard implementer. The court did not decide whether additional information has to be provided, in particular regarding the interpretation of the patent claims or on which part of the standard the patent reads, but it stated that such additional information is not harmful to the patent proprietor. [65] Lastly, the court detailed on the particular situation of the Intervener, being Defendant’s manufacturer and supplier in the present case: Even though a FRAND defense successfully raised by the Intervener would in general also cover subsequent levels of the distribution chain, the Huawei requirements apply only indirectly to suppliers of contested embodiments which have not been sued themselves. Accordingly, the SEP proprietor is not obliged to notify the patent infringement to third parties, but as soon as a request to grant a license on FRAND terms is submitted the (adapted) Huawei procedure applies. [66] In casu, no separate infringement notice vis-à-vis the Intervener was required since the Intervener was, since August 2014, aware of the action having been brought.
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      Since the patent user did not express its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement in due time, the court found Claimant to comply with the Huawei requirement to submit a licensing offer on FRAND terms even though the offer was made in the course of the ongoing litigation. For transitional cases, as the present one, this holds true even if infringement notification and court action take place at the same time. [67] Besides, the court analyzed under which circumstances licensing conditions can be considered as FRAND according to Huawei. In the opinion of the judges, the more licensing agreements implementing comparable terms the SEP proprietor has already concluded, the stronger is the presumption that these conditions are FRAND, unless factual reasons—which are to be demonstrated by the patent user—justify modified terms. Recognized commercial practice in the relevant sector has to be considered when defining the admissible scope of the licensing agreement. If patent portfolios are usually covered by group or worldwide licenses in the relevant market, a (worldwide) portfolio license will be FRAND unless the circumstances of the specific case, e.g. the SEP proprietor’s market activity being limited to one geographic market, require a modification. [68] Accordingly, Claimant’s (worldwide) licensing offer to Defendant for the whole AMR-WB pool, demanding royalties of USD 0.26 per mobile device that implemented the standard and was produced or marketed in countries in which the SEP was in force, and complying with Claimants existing licensing practice (accessible on the Internet and already implemented in 12 licensing agreements) was declared FRAND. While the court considered that comparable licensing agreements “represent an important indicator of the adequacy of the license terms offered” it clarified that the significance of a patent pool as an indication of FRAND conformity is “limited”. Defendant and the Intervener failed to show that the portfolio comprised (non-used) non-SEPs as well. [69] They further failed to show that the pre-concluded licensing agreements provided no valid basis for comparison as they were concluded under the threat of pending litigation. [70] In order to fulfill the Huawei obligation of specifying the calculation of royalties, the SEP proprietor only has to provide the information necessary to determine the amount of royalties to be paid, e.g. the royalty per unit and the products covered by the license. While the court left undecided whether additional indications, e.g. concerning the FRAND character of the licensing offer, are necessary to comply with Huawei, it found that the SEP proprietor’s duty to inform should not be interpreted too strictly as FRAND does regularly encompass a range of values that will be fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. [71] Claimant’s licensing offer presented to the Intervener was considered as being FRAND for the same reasons. Furthermore, the court emphasized that the contractual clause allowing for judicial review of the royalties offered could be a possible way to avoid abusive practices and to ensure that licensing offers correspond to FRAND terms. [72]
    3. The standard implementer’s reaction
      The court found that the more details the infringement notification contains, the less time remains for the standard user to examine the patent(s) at issue and to express its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement on FRAND terms. In the present case, Defendant did not comply with Huawei because it took more than five months to react and then only asked for proof of the alleged infringement. Given this excessive delay, the court did not decide whether Defendant’s reaction satisfied the Huawei requirements in terms of content. It denied the possibility to remedy a belated reaction by a subsequent declaration of willingness to license. On the contrary, and as a consequence of the patent user’s non-compliance, the SEP proprietor may continue the infringement action without violating Article 102 TFEU, but it still has to grant licenses on FRAND terms. [73] Whether the Intervener satisfied the ECJ criteria was left undecided. [74] The court made some further remarks of interest as to the Huawei requirements concerning the standard implementer: Firstly, it left undecided whether the obligation of the patent user to diligently respond is caused also by a (potentially) non-FRAND licensing offer. [75] Secondly, a standard user who has taken a license is not prevented from challenging validity and essentiality of the SEP afterwards, nor is the SEP proprietor entitled to terminate the license if such a challenge takes place. However, the standard implementer may not delay the (unconditional) conclusion of the licensing agreement until a final court decision on these issues has been rendered. While validity and standard-essentiality is litigated, the licensee remains obliged to pay royalties and it cannot request to insert into the licensing contract a clause entitling it to reclaim paid royalties in case of its success in court. [76] Thirdly, as, in the present case, no specific counter-offers satisfying FRAND terms were submitted and Defendant could not establish that Claimant had waived this requirement the court did not decide on whether a SEP proprietor is obliged to negotiate further although itself and the patent user have submitted FRAND offers. [77] None of the counter-offers of the Intervener were FRAND in terms of content. They were either inadmissibly limited to Germany, contained no precise royalty, were not submitted “promptly” because the standard user had waited until the oral pleadings in the parallel procedure, or they proposed royalties per device which the court considered as too low. [78] While it was therefore held to be irrelevant whether, in the first place, the Intervener duly declared its willingness to license, the court emphasized that the Intervener’s readiness to take a license only after the SEP infringement was determined in court did not satisfy the Huawei standard of conduct. [79] Moreover, the obligation imposed by Huawei to provide appropriate security and to render account was not fulfilled. While Defendant refrained from taking any of these actions, the Intervener waited several months after the counter-offers were refused in order to submit its bank “guarantee of payment”, which was not recognized as “appropriate security” due to its amount and its limitation to acts of use in Germany. [80] Neither was the Intervener’s initial proposal to have the security—if requested by Claimant—determined by an arbitration tribunal or by an English court accepted as an appropriate way to provide security. [81]
  3. Other important issues
    According to the court, the Huawei requirements apply to both non-practicing entities and other market participants. [82] Suing a network operator instead of the undertakings producing devices operating in the network constitutes (at least under the circumstances of this case and absent selective enforcement) no violation of competition law even though this strategy might aim at using the action against the network operator as a “lever” to obtain licensing commitments from the device suppliers. On the other hand, device manufacturers are entitled to a FRAND license as well and can raise the FRAND defense if such a license is not granted. In consequence, the court perceives a fair balance of interests as the SEP proprietor can choose on which level of the chain of production to sue while the undertakings in the chain of production can choose on which level to take a license. [83] Furthermore, no patent ambush-defense based on § 242 BGB could be raised because, firstly, Defendant and the Intervener could not substantiate the alleged patent ambush by “Y” and “C”, being the original SEP proprietors; secondly, they could not show that a different patent declaration conduct would have resulted in a different version of the standard excluding the patent-in-suit; thirdly, the alleged patent ambush would, arguably, have resulted only in a FRAND-licensing obligation and, fourthly, Claimant had declared its willingness to grant a license on FRAND terms anyway. [84]
  • [59] This is the date mentioned by the Court although “23 January 2015” may seem more plausible and the date given by the Court may result from a scrivener’s error.
  • [60] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 184
  • [61] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 187
  • [62] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 195 et seq.
  • [63] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 208-210
  • [64] Case No. 4a O 126/14, para. IV, 3, a, bb, 2, c
  • [65] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 193
  • [66] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 270 et seq.
  • [67] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 222 et seq.
  • [68] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 225 et seq.
  • [69] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 225 et seq. On the relevance of the SIPRO-pool royalty rates, cf. LG Düsseldorf, 31 March 2016 – Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 245-248. On the facts indicating that a worldwide license was appropriate LG Düsseldorf, 31 March 2016 – Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 249-255.
  • [70] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 234-242. The court argued that it is questionable in principle how much the threat of a claim for injunctive relief can (inadmissibly) affect license agreement negotiations, since the Orange Book case law of the BGH (German Federal Court of Justice), the Motorola decision of the European Commission, and now the CJEU judgment in the Huawei Technologies/ZTE Case could be and can be invoked against inappropriate demands that are in breach of antitrust law.
  • [71] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 256 et seq.
  • [72] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 279 et seq.
  • [73] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 214-220
  • [74] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 214-220; 278
  • [75] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 266
  • [76] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 185 et seq.; 262 et seq.
  • [77] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 264
  • [78] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 291 et seq.
  • [79] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 278
  • [80] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 267 et seq.; 299 et seq.
  • [81] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 304
  • [82] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 189
  • [83] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 309-313
  • [84] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 317 et seq.

Updated 26 January 2017

NTT DoCoMo v HTC

LG Mannheim
29 January 2016 - Case No. 7 O 66/15

  1. Facts
    Claimant owns the patent EP 1 914 945, declared to be essential with regard to ETSI’s UMTS standard. Defendant markets devices implementing the UMTS standard (in particular the HSUPA/EUL technology). On 19 March 2014 Claimant sent to Defendant’s group parent a detailed licensing offer and explained its conditions at several instances before filing suit in April 2015. As of 7 April 2014 and 15 July 2014, Claimant communicated to Defendant’s group parent company claim charts in order to demonstrate standard-essentiality of its patent and further explained the issue in a presentation on 8 July 2014. Defendant submitted its first counter-offer on 30 October 2015. The counter-offer envisaged a 3 year-license limited to some of the countries in which Defendant markets its products. Claimant rejected the counter-offer on 12 November 2015. Defendant did not provide security but merely promised to do so, based on a calculation including sales of relevant devices in Germany only. Claimant rejected this and demanded security based on worldwide sales.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. General meaning of the Huawei framework
      Prior to discussing specific conduct requirements established by the Huawei ruling, the court sketches its approach in a general manner. [83] According to the court the Huawei decision establishes a set of rules of due conduct in SEP licensing negotiations. Based on whether the parties comply with these rules the respective court can determine whether an SEP owner’s seeking of an injunction and a recall of products constitutes an abuse of a position of market dominance or a justified reaction to a standard implementer’s delaying tactics. In consequence, the respective court does not—unless it has to decide a claim for the payment of licensing fees and not claims for injunction and recall of products—have to rule on the substance of the offered licensing conditions or their being FRAND. [84] This is in line with recognized commercial practice according to which reasonable parties will not usually want courts to determine their licensing conditions. Furthermore, the ECJ has—from the perspective of the Mannheim District court—stressed that the exercise of the exclusive rights conveyed by a patent will be barred only in very exceptional circumstances. As a result, it is up to the standard implementer to show that such exceptional circumstances are present. [85]
    2. Market power and notice of infringement
      The court does not elaborate on the market power issue. As part of the notice of infringement [86] the court deems it necessary for the proprietor to identify the (allegedly) violated patent, including the patent number, and to inform that the patent has been declared standard-essential. Furthermore, the proprietor has not only to name the standard but to specify the pertinent part of the standard and the infringing element of the implementer’s products in a way that enables the standard implementer to assess whether its use of the standard infringes on the patent-in-suit. The level of detail required must be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending mainly on the expertise of – or available to – the implementer. Presenting claim charts corresponding to recognized commercial practice for licensing negotiations is, in principle, an acceptable way to give notice of the alleged infringement. In casu the court considered the proprietor’s notice as sufficient. [87] In particular, notice was given before the bringing of an action for infringement and the proprietor had submitted claim charts not only with regard to the patent-in-suit but also with regard to six other patents from the portfolio offered for license, a sample which the court deemed in accordance with recognized commercial practice. Sufficient notice having taken place, the court left open the question whether, (1) the Huawei rules applied at all in spite of the action being brought before the ECJ’s decision, and whether (2) the proprietor was obliged to submit claim charts for other patents than the patent-in-suit.
    3. The SEP proprietor’s licensing offer
      The court’s general understanding of the Huawei rules of conduct (cf. above) has a considerable impact on the way it intends to react to a SEP proprietor’s licensing offer: [88] The offer must specify the relevant conditions in a way that, in order to conclude a licensing agreement, the standard implementer has merely to state his acceptance of the offer. The calculation of the license fee, in particular, must be explained in a manner that enables the standard implementer to objectively assess its FRAND conformity. Even if the standard implementer disputes the FRAND character of the offer it is not the court’s business to determine whether the licensing conditions are actually FRAND. Neither is the SEP proprietor prohibited from offering conditions slightly above the FRAND threshold. A differing view of the parties on what constitutes FRAND is to be expected and provides no reason for cartel law-based intervention. An exploitative abuse of market power can, however, be present where the proprietor, after having made a FRAND declaration, offers conditions that are, under the circumstances of the case and without objective justification, manifestly less favorable (in an economic sense) than the conditions offered to other licensees. Correspondingly, the respective court is only required to determine, based on a summary assessment, whether the proprietor’s licensing offer evidently violates the FRAND concept. In casu the court accepted the Huawei compliance of the licensing offer, [89] in particular because the proprietor had explained its calculation of the licensing fee based on the percentage of patents in the WCMA/SIPRO and the VIA patent pools held by the proprietor. The proprietor was not required to prove its share in the patent pools. The parties disagreed over whether the smallest saleable unit forms an appropriate basis for royalty calculation and whether it is acceptable to look only at the size, not the quality of a proprietor’s share in a relevant patent pool. The court, however, considered these issues as not decisive for the Huawei-conformity of the licensing offer.
    4. The standard implementer’s reaction
      As a further consequence of the court’s general approach, the standard implementer’s duty to diligently react to the proprietor’s licensing offer is not removed only because the offer does not fully comply with FRAND. [90] . An exception applies only where it can be established by a mere summary assessment that the offer evidently violates FRAND. If a reaction of the alleged infringer is due, the “diligence”, i.e. timeliness, of this offer has to be determined cases-by-case, based on the principles of good faith and recognized commercial practice. In casu the standard implementer’s reaction was insufficient (1) because a counter-offer was made only 1.5 years after receiving the licensing offer and 0.5 years after the bringing of the proprietor’s action, (2) because security was merely promised, not provided, and (3) because the amount of security offered fell short of the court’s suggestions.
  3. Other important issues
    The court underlines that a SEP proprietor has to respect the Huawei rules of conduct only with regard to an action for prohibitory injunction or the recall of products. It is, however, free from their grip when bringing an action seeking the rendering of accounts in relation to past acts of use or an award of damages in respect of those acts of use.
  • [83] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 53 et seq.
  • [84] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 56
  • [85] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 53
  • [86] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 57
  • [87] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 65-69
  • [88] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 58
  • [89] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 70-72
  • [90] Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 59 et seq

Updated 26 January 2017

Pioneer v Acer

LG Mannheim
8 January 2016 - Case No. 7 O 96/14

  1. Facts
    Claimant owns the patent EP 1 267348, allegedly essential to the DVD standard and administered with regard to its licensing by the patent pool “A”. Early in 2013 “A” and the Defendant’s group parent were in contact regarding “A” ’s DVD licensing activity, but no concrete notice of infringement was made and no licensing negotiations ensued. After having been sued for patent infringement Defendant submitted, on 6 October 2014, an offer to license the patent-in-suit for Germany at FRAND conditions, with the exact royalty rate to be determined by Claimant pursuant to § 315 German Civil Code. Furthermore, Defendant declared to be willing to negotiate a portfolio license for all German patents of Claimant and, in case the negotiations were to fail, to have the licensing conditions determined by a state court or arbitration tribunal. In order to indicate what Defendant considered to be a FRAND royalty rate Defendant submitted an expert opinion. As of 28 November 2014, Claimant proposed to modify the conditions to the effect that Defendant’s group parent was supposed to take a worldwide portfolio license comprising all Claimant’s portfolio patents administered by “A”. Claimant made a (perhaps: additional) FRAND declaration with regard to the patent and informed Defendant thereof in December 2014. After Defendant had rejected this offer, Claimant offered, on 13 March and 13 April 2015, a worldwide portfolio license to Defendant’s group parent company. To the offer were added claim charts for two pool patents, as well as information on how Claimant deduced the royalty from the overall royalty rates of the “A”-patent pool. On 5 May 2015, Defendant’s group parent requested claim charts regarding all patents to be licensed as well as further information on royalty calculation. Claimant sent, on 7 August 2015, claim charts for five additional patents declaring its willingness to provide further information as soon as constructive technical discussions would be taken up. In a filing to the court as of 20 November 2015, Claimant explained its royalty calculation in greater detail and submitted an expert opinion on the issue.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. General meaning of the Huawei framework and applicability to transitory cases
      As to the court’s general take on the Huawei rules cf. LG Mannheim, 29 January 2016 - 7 O 66/15 (above). Where an action for prohibitory injunction and recall of products has been brought before the ECJ handed down its ruling it has, in the opinion of the court, no negative effect on the action if Claimant fulfills its Huawei conduct obligations only after filing the lawsuit. [1] According to the extensive analysis undertaken by the court this is because, inter alia, the SEP proprietor could not be expected to comply with the – then future and unknown – conduct requirements established by Huawei but rather with the legal framework set by the German Federal Court (BGH) in Orange Book. Hence, a proprietor’s conduct that respected Orange Book but deviated from Huawei cannot be taken to signal inappropriate economic goals or lack of willingness to grant FRAND licenses. Furthermore, it seems more in line with the ECJ’s core intention of furthering successful licensing negotiations if the parties get the chance to perform their Huawei conduct obligations even though litigation is already underway.
      Where, however, the action is brought after the Huawei ruling a violation of the conduct requirements established therein bars—as a matter of substantive law, not of procedural law—Claimant from enforcing its patent-based rights to prohibitory injunction or recall of products. [2] Although Claimant’s action will then be dismissed, Claimant is free to catch up on its Huawei obligations and re-file the action if the standard user fails to comply with Huawei.
    2. Market power and notice of infringement
      Leaving open whether Claimant was market dominant, the court formulates general considerations identical to those in the decision LG Mannheim, 29 January 2016 - 7 O 66/15 (cf. above). The court doubts whether the initial contact between the patent pool “A” and Defendant’s group parent qualifies as an appropriate notice of infringement. In any case, such notice has been given by and after bringing the infringement lawsuit. Claimant’s statement of claims, in particular, contained all information necessary. Producing the original document in which Claimant made its FRAND declaration or proving that a FRAND declaration has been properly made during the standard-setting procedure is not required as long as the SEP proprietor considers itself bound by a FRAND licensing obligation. Not least because the lawsuit had been suspended for several months and some more months elapsed between the ECJ’s Huawei ruling and the oral hearings in the case at issue, there was ample time for the standard user to fulfill its Huawei duties and negotiate a license unburdened by the pressure created by an impending prohibitory injunction. [3] Even if it were justified to request—the court seems to doubt this—claim charts for a sample of patents where a worldwide portfolio license is offered, Claimant would have met this obligation, in particular because Defendant did not communicate that or why it considered the sample insufficient. It was not necessary for Claimant to impart to Defendant a documentation of the standard at issue. [4]
    3. The SEP proprietor’s licensing offer
      The court’s general considerations are identical to those in the decision LG Mannheim, 29 January 2016 - 7 O 66/15 (cf. above): The court’s general understanding of the Huawei rules of conduct (cf. above) has a considerable impact on the way it intends to react to a SEP proprietor’s licensing offer: [5] The offer must specify the relevant conditions in a way that, in order to conclude a licensing agreement, the standard implementer has merely to state his acceptance of the offer. The calculation of the license fee, in particular, must be explained in a manner that enables the standard implementer to objectively assess its FRAND conformity. Even if the standard implementer disputes the FRAND character of the offer it is not the court’s business to determine whether the licensing conditions are actually FRAND. Neither is the SEP proprietor prohibited from offering conditions slightly above the FRAND threshold. A differing view of the parties on what constitutes FRAND is to be expected and provides no reason for cartel law-based intervention. An exploitative abuse of market power can, however, be present where the proprietor, after having made a FRAND declaration, offers conditions that are, under the circumstances of the case and without objective justification, manifestly less favorable (in an economic sense) than the conditions offered to other licensees. Correspondingly, the respective court is only required to determine, based on a summary assessment, whether the proprietor’s licensing offer evidently violates the FRAND concept.
      In casu the court considered Claimant’s offer as sufficient, [6] in particular because a worldwide license, granted to the parent of a group, corresponded to recognized commercial practice in the field. It was no evident FRAND violation to calculate the royalties based on the licensing conditions of the patent pool “A” and Claimant’s share in the patents of this pool. It was further appropriate to demand a lump sum for past use of the patents to be licensed without specifying (in the licensing offer) the exact amount for lack of accessible information on the extent of the use. The information provided by Claimant on how the royalties were calculated was deemed sufficient. It was not necessary to impart to Defendant licensing contracts concluded with other market participants since “A” ’s model contracts were accessible on the Internet and no circumstances indicated unequal treatment of licensees absent objective justification such as differing turnovers.
    4. The standard implementer’s reaction
      The court’s general considerations are identical to those in the decision LG Mannheim, 29 January 2016 - 7 O 66/15 (cf. above). In casu the court considered Defendant’s counter-offer to be evidently non-FRAND, mainly because the license would have—inappropriately, given the facts of the case and recognized commercial practice—been limited to Germany. [7] Furthermore, Defendant neither rendered account nor provided security for its use of the patent in the past. The fact that Defendant has—allegedly—terminated its use of the patent does not remove these obligations for past periods of use. [8] As the court explains in some detail, [9] an overall assessment of the conduct of the parties indicates that Defendant engaged in delaying tactics while Claimant was not trying to use the infringement action for extorting excessive royalties.
  3. Other important issues
    The court underlines that a SEP proprietor has to respect the Huawei rules of conduct only with regard to an action for prohibitory injunction or the recall of products (cf. LG Mannheim, 29 January 2016 - 7 O 66/15, above). Regarding claims for rendering of accounts it mentions, but does not decide the question whether the existence of a FRAND declaration has an impact on the content of such claims. [10]
    Even if the standard-setting at issue had—due to the lack of a timely FRAND commitment by Claimant—violated Art. 101 TFEU, this would not bar Claimant from enforcing its patents within the limits set by Art. 102 TFEU and the Huawei ruling. [11]
    Neither competition law nor the general principle of good faith required Claimant to primarily address entities that produce standard-implementing components of Defendant’s products. [12] On the contrary, Claimant was free to immediately demand the taking of a license from Defendant, all the more so because Defendant was not only engaged in marketing and selling third-party devices but also devices produced by Defendant’s group of companies using the standard-implementing components.
  • [1] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 84-107
  • [2] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 81-83
  • [3] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 109 et seq.
  • [4] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 114-117
  • [5] LG Mannheim, 29 January 2016 – Case No. 7 O 66/15, para. 58
  • [6] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 118-129
  • [7] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 131-133
  • [8] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 134 et seq.
  • [9] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 136-141
  • [10] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 142
  • [11] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 144 et seq.
  • [12] Case No. 7 O 96/14, para. 146

Updated 26 January 2017

Saint Lawrence v Vodafone

LG Düsseldorf
31 March 2016 - Case No. 4a O 126/14

  1. Facts
    Since 28 August 2014 Claimant, a non-practicing entity, is the proprietor of the European patent EP J, originally granted to applicants “Y” and “C”, and allegedly covering part of the AMR-WB standard. Defendant is a company active in the telecommunications sector and which markets AMR-WB-based devices, inter alia devices produced by the Intervener in this case. After the adoption (“freeze”) of AMR-WB by ETSI on 10 April 2001, Claimant (who was not an ETSI member during the setting of the AMR-WB standard) made, on 29 May 2001, a commitment towards ETSI to grant licenses on FRAND terms inter alia for patent EP J. Claimant and its parent company “O” offer the SEP and all other patents of the same family to third parties by means of a portfolio license. Licensing conditions are accessible on the Internet and various producers in the sector have taken a license under these conditions.
    Prior to the submission of the patent infringement action on 23 July 2014 and to the advance payments on costs on 29 July 2014, Claimant alerted neither Defendant nor the manufacturer of the contested embodiments, who acted as an intervener in the present proceedings and became aware of the lawsuit in August 2014. By e-mails on 31 July and (as a reminder) on 9 December 2014, the first of which included a copy of the statement of claims and reached the defendant before it was formally served with the statement, Claimant notified the alleged patent violation to Defendant. After Defendant’s reply as of 12 January 2015, Claimant presented a draft licensing agreement to Defendant by letter as of 22 April 2015.
    On 9 December 2014, the Intervener declared willingness to take a license, inter alia for the patent-in-suit, provided infringement was found in court. It further declared that it would accept royalties determined by a court or arbitration tribunal. Claimant, in turn, offered a licensing agreement by letters as of 12 January 2015 and 25 March 2015 respectively. In the course of meetings taking place since 23 January 2014, [85] Claimant offered a license to the Intervener. On 23 February 2015 and on 2 April 2015 respectively, the Intervener made two licensing offers, including third party determination (arbitration panel or English court) of the amount of royalty, for the whole German patent portfolio of Claimant. An additional offer for a licensing agreement, limited to Germany and implementing a royalty of USD 0.0055 per patent by reference to the “WCDMA Patent Pools”, was made by the Intervener on 6 March 2015 and 24 September 2015 respectively, but it was finally refused by Claimant on 4 October 2015. Moreover, the Intervener provided a bank “guarantee of payment” as of 3 September 2015, being modified by letter as of 10 November 2015, and also rendered account of past and prospective sales in Germany since 2011.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    The considerations of the court are almost exactly the same as those in the case LG Düsseldorf, 31 March 2016 – Case No. 4a O 73/14.
    1. Market power and notice of infringement
      The court leaves open the question of whether the SEP conferred market power to Claimant since it did, in any case, find no abuse of such potential market power. [86] The court declared the Huawei rules applicable to claims for the recall of products. [87]
      As regards the Huawei requirement to alert the standard user of the infringement, the decision arrived at various findings of interest: Firstly, the judges found that—in “non-transitional” cases where the lawsuit was brought after the Huawei decision—the infringement notification has to take place before the action is filed, or the latest before the advance payment on costs is made. In transitional cases, such as the present case, a delayed infringement notification, taking place after the advance payment on costs as well as the submission of the court action, but before the statement of claims is served, is admissible. [88] Moreover, an infringement notification could possibly be omitted (in particular) if—as in the present case—the patent user already disposes of all necessary information and lacks willingness to license. [89] In non-transitional cases, however, the court doubts whether it is possible to rectify an omitted infringement notification without withdrawing the action. [90]
      Secondly, the court specified the minimum content of the infringement notification which has to indicate at least the number of the patent, the contested embodiments and the alleged acts of use performed by the standard implementer. The court did not decide whether additional information has to be provided, in particular regarding the interpretation of the patent claims or on which part of the standard the patent reads, but it stated that such additional information is not harmful to the patent proprietor. [91]
      Lastly, the court detailed on the particular situation of the Intervener, being Defendant’s manufacturer and supplier in the present case: Even though a FRAND defense successfully raised by the Intervener would in general also cover subsequent levels of the distribution chain, the Huawei requirements apply only indirectly to suppliers of contested embodiments which have not been sued themselves. Accordingly, the SEP proprietor is not obliged to notify the patent infringement to third parties, but as soon as a request to grant a license on FRAND terms is submitted the (adapted) Huawei procedure applies. [92] In casu, no separate infringement notice vis-à-vis the Intervener was required since the Intervener was, since August 2014, aware of the action having been brought.
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      Since the patent user did not express its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement in due time, the court found Claimant to comply with the Huawei requirement to submit a licensing offer on FRAND terms even though the offer was made in the course of the ongoing litigation. For transitional cases, as the present one, this holds true even if infringement notification and court action take place at the same time. [93]
      Besides, the court analyzed under which circumstances licensing conditions can be considered as FRAND according to Huawei. In the opinion of the judges, the more licensing agreements implementing comparable terms the SEP proprietor has already concluded, the stronger is the presumption that these conditions are FRAND, unless factual reasons—which are to be demonstrated by the patent user—justify modified terms. Recognized commercial practice in the relevant sector has to be considered when defining the admissible scope of the licensing agreement. If patent portfolios are usually covered by group or worldwide licenses in the relevant market, a (worldwide) portfolio license will be FRAND unless the circumstances of the specific case, e.g. the SEP proprietor’s market activity being limited to one geographic market, require a modification. [94] Accordingly, Claimant’s (worldwide) licensing offer to Defendant for the whole AMR-WB pool, demanding royalties of USD 0.26 per mobile device that implemented the standard and was produced or marketed in countries in which the SEP was in force, and complying with Claimants existing licensing practice (accessible on the Internet and already implemented in 12 licensing agreements) was declared FRAND. While the court considered that comparable licensing agreements “represent an important indicator of the adequacy of the license terms offered” it clarified that the significance of a patent pool as an indication of FRAND conformity is “limited”. Defendant and the Intervener failed to show that the portfolio comprised (non-used) non-SEPs as well. [95] They further failed to show that the pre-concluded licensing agreements provided no valid basis for comparison as they were concluded under the threat of pending litigation. [96]
      In order to fulfill the Huawei obligation of specifying the calculation of royalties, the SEP proprietor only has to provide the information necessary to determine the amount of royalties to be paid, e.g. the royalty per unit and the products covered by the license. While the court left undecided whether additional indications, e.g. concerning the FRAND character of the licensing offer, are necessary to comply with Huawei, it found that the SEP proprietor’s duty to inform should not be interpreted too strictly as FRAND does regularly encompass a range of values that will be fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. [97]
      Claimant’s licensing offer presented to the Intervener was considered as being FRAND for the same reasons. Furthermore, the court emphasized that the contractual clause allowing for judicial review of the royalties offered could be a possible way to avoid abusive practices and to ensure that licensing offers correspond to FRAND terms. [98]
    3. The standard implementer’s reaction
      The court found that the more details the infringement notification contains, the less time remains for the standard user to examine the patent(s) at issue and to express its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement on FRAND terms. In the present case, Defendant did not comply with Huawei because it took more than five months to react and then only asked for proof of the alleged infringement. Given this excessive delay, the court did not decide whether Defendant’s reaction satisfied the Huawei requirements in terms of content. It denied the possibility to remedy a belated reaction by a subsequent declaration of willingness to license. On the contrary, and as a consequence of the patent user’s non-compliance, the SEP proprietor may continue the infringement action without violating Article 102 TFEU, but it still has to grant licenses on FRAND terms. [99] Whether the Intervener satisfied the ECJ criteria was left undecided. [100]
      The court made some further remarks of interest as to the Huawei requirements concerning the standard implementer: Firstly, it left undecided whether the obligation of the patent user to diligently respond is caused also by a (potentially) non-FRAND licensing offer. [101] Secondly, a standard user who has taken a license is not prevented from challenging validity and essentiality of the SEP afterwards, nor is the SEP proprietor entitled to terminate the license if such a challenge takes place. However, the standard implementer may not delay the (unconditional) conclusion of the licensing agreement until a final court decision on these issues has been rendered. While validity and standard-essentiality is litigated, the licensee remains obliged to pay royalties and it cannot request to insert into the licensing contract a clause entitling it to reclaim paid royalties in case of its success in court. [102] Thirdly, as, in the present case, no specific counter-offers satisfying FRAND terms were submitted and Defendant could not establish that Claimant had waived this requirement the court did not decide on whether a SEP proprietor is obliged to negotiate further although itself and the patent user have submitted FRAND offers. [103]
      None of the counter-offers of the Intervener were FRAND in terms of content. They were either inadmissibly limited to Germany, contained no precise royalty, were not submitted “promptly” because the standard user had waited until the oral pleadings in the parallel procedure, or they proposed royalties per device which the court considered as too low. [104] While it was therefore held to be irrelevant whether, in the first place, the Intervener duly declared its willingness to license, the court emphasized that the Intervener’s readiness to take a license only after the SEP infringement was determined in court did not satisfy the Huawei standard of conduct. [105]
      Moreover, the obligation imposed by Huawei to provide appropriate security and to render account was not fulfilled. While Defendant refrained from taking any of these actions, the Intervener waited several months after the counter-offers were refused in order to submit its bank “guarantee of payment”, which was not recognized as “appropriate security” due to its amount and its limitation to acts of use in Germany. [106] Neither was the Intervener’s initial proposal to have the security—if requested by Claimant—determined by an arbitration tribunal or by an English court accepted as an appropriate way to provide security. [107]
  3. Other important issues
    According to the court, the Huawei requirements apply to both non-practicing entities and other market participants. [108]
    Suing a network operator instead of the undertakings producing devices operating in the network constitutes (at least under the circumstances of this case and absent selective enforcement) no violation of competition law even though this strategy might aim at using the action against the network operator as a “lever” to obtain licensing commitments from the device suppliers. On the other hand, device manufacturers are entitled to a FRAND license as well and can raise the FRAND defense if such a license is not granted. In consequence, the court perceives a fair balance of interests as the SEP proprietor can choose on which level of the chain of production to sue while the undertakings in the chain of production can choose on which level to take a license. [109]
    Furthermore, no patent ambush-defense based on § 242 BGB could be raised because, firstly, Defendant and the Intervener could not substantiate the alleged patent ambush by “Y” and “C”, being the original SEP proprietors; secondly, they could not show that a different patent declaration conduct would have resulted in a different version of the standard excluding the patent-in-suit; thirdly, the alleged patent ambush would, arguably, have resulted only in a FRAND-licensing obligation and, fourthly, Claimant had declared its willingness to grant a license on FRAND terms anyway. [110]
  • [85] This is the date mentioned by the court although “23 January 2015” may seem more plausible and the date given by the court may result from a scrivener’s error.
  • [86] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 184
  • [87] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 187
  • [88] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 195 et seq.
  • [89] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 208-210
  • [90] Case No. 4a O 126/14, para. IV, 3, a, bb, 2, c
  • [91] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 193
  • [92] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 270 et seq.
  • [93] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 222 et seq.
  • [94] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 225 et seq.
  • [95] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 225 et seq. On the relevance of the SIPRO-pool royalty rates, cf. LG Düsseldorf, 31 March 2016 – Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 245-248. On the facts indicating that a worldwide license was appropriate LG Düsseldorf, 31 March 2016 – Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 249-255.
  • [96] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 234-242. The court argued that it is questionable in principle how much the threat of a claim for injunctive relief can (inadmissibly) affect license agreement negotiations, since the Orange Book case law of the BGH (German Federal Court of Justice), the Motorola decision of the European Commission, and now the CJEU judgment in the Huawei Technologies/ZTE Case could be and can be invoked against inappropriate demands that are in breach of antitrust law.
  • [97] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 256 et seq.
  • [98] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 279 et seq.
  • [99] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 214-220
  • [100] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 214-220; 278
  • [101] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 266
  • [102] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 185 et seq.; 262 et seq.
  • [103] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 264.
  • [104] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 291 et seq.
  • [105] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 278
  • [106] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 267 et seq.; 299 et seq.
  • [107] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 304
  • [108] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 189
  • [109] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 309-313
  • [110] Case No. 4a O 73/14, para. 317 et seq.

Updated 6 March 2017

Philips v Archos

LG Mannheim
1 July 2016 - Case No. 7 O 209/15

  1. Facts
    Claimant, a globally operating electronics manufacturer, is the proprietor of European patents EP 1 062 743 B1 and EP 1 062 745 B1, allegedly covering part of the UMTS- and LTE-standard respectively. Defendant, being the German subsidiary of the French parent company Archos S.A., produces and markets UMTS- and LTE-based devices under the brand name “ARCHOS” in Germany.
    By letter of 5 July 2014, Claimant sent an infringement notification, including a list of the patents affected, to Defendant. Furthermore, on 15/16 September 2014, Claimant explained its licensing program to Defendant and provided for corresponding documents. After Defendant offered Claimant in a meeting on 25 November 2014 the transfer of patents which it considered essential to the UMTS- and LTE-standard respectively, Claimant sent a written licensing offer, containing a list of SEPs and patent-infringing products, to Defendant on 28 July 2015 and provided for additional technical information concerning the SEPs in-suit on 25 September 2015 via e-mail. On 12 January 2016, Defendant, in turn, submitted a written counter-offer to Claimant for a licence covering Claimant’s worldwide LTE/UMTS-patent portfolio including royalties of 0.071% of the net sales price per unit. Since the parties did not conclude a binding licensing agreement subsequently, Claimant brought an action against Defendant on 16 October 2015, received by the court on 19 October 2015. In April 2016, Defendant deposited an amount of EUR 161’343.00 at the Landesjustizkasse (federal justice treasury) Bamberg, which should cover the worldwide sales of LTE/UMTS-based devices between 2012 and 30 June 2016 and was calculated on the basis of the royalties previously offered in Defendant’s counter-offer.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. Market power and infringement notification
      The court left open the question of whether the SEP conveyed market power to Claimant since it did, in any case, find no abuse of such potential market power.
      Having regard to the content of the infringement notification, the Mannheim court held that, in any case, the SEP proprietor, on the one hand, has to denote the patent in-suit, which it deems essential, by reference to its patent number and to indicate, that the patent has be declared essential by the respective standardization organization. In order to specify the way in which the SEP has been infringed, the SEP proprietor’s notification must, on the other hand, clarify to which standard the patent in-suit is essential and based on which circumstances it assumes that the alleged infringer makes use of the patent’s teachings. For this purpose, the SEP proprietor must indicate which (category of the) technical functionality of the challenged embodiment makes use of the standard. The alleged infringer must be able to assess the intellectual property rights situation autonomously or by recourse to a third party.
      The level of detail to be adhered to in the infringement notification depends on the specific circumstances of the case, taking into account in particular the technology knowledge of the alleged infringer or by what means it can acquire the corresponding professional expertise in a reasonable manner. In order to substantiate the facts of the infringement in accordance with Huawei, it is deemed sufficient to refer to so-called claim charts, being customarily used in the course of licensing negotiations, comparing the asserted claim of the patent in-suit according to features with the relevant passages of the standard without fulfilling the requirements of the conclusiveness test of an infringement action. In contrast, the mere reference that the standard implementer would produce or market products implementing the standard and therefore infringe the patent in-suit is not adequate.
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      As regards the Huawei condition to submit a written offer on FRAND terms prior to the initiation of proceedings, the court requires a contractual offer that is ready to be adopted and comprises the essentialia negotii. However, in the opinion of the judges, Huawei does not oblige the infringement court to determine pursuant to objective criteria whether the licensing offer complies with FRAND terms, if the latter fact is disputed by the alleged infringer. [139] The SEP proprietor’s offer is only considered not FRAND and in violation of antitrust law, if it constitutes an expression of exploitative abuse, taking into account the specific negotiation situation and, in particular, the market conditions.
      In order to comply with the obligation to specify the way in which the royalty is to be calculated, the SEP proprietor must put the alleged infringer in a position to understand on the basis of objective criteria why the former considers its licensing offer as FRAND. For this purpose, it is, in the case of quota licence agreement, not sufficient to indicate the royalties per unit without substantiating their FRAND character. The respective amount must be made sufficiently transparent, e.g. by reference to an established standard licensing program or by indicating other reference values allowing to deduce the royalty demanded, such as a pool licence fee.
      Taking into account the summary examination of the Higher Regional court in Karlsruhe granting the SEP proprietor much leeway in determining FRAND terms [140] , the Mannheim court left in the present case undecided whether it has to reassess its own standards of review, because Claimant did not sufficiently explain why royalties of USD 1.00 per unit should be FRAND in accordance with Huawei. The mere indication of the multipliers underlying the calculation of the royalties were deemed inadequate, since on the basis of this incomplete (market) information the alleged infringer is neither able to assess whether Claimant’s offer is FRAND nor to submit a FRAND counter-offer.
      The subsequent explanations as well as the expert opinion, seeking to prove the non-discriminatory character of the royalties, forming part of Claimant’s reply, did not fulfill the Huawei requirements, because prior to the initiation of proceedings Claimant has to substantiate both the manner of patent infringement and the way of calculating the royalties. Without completely dissenting from the decision previously rendered by the OLG Düsseldorf [141] , the Mannheim court, by reference to the subsequent rectification order issued by the ECJ on 15 December 2015, denied the SEP proprietor’s unlimited possibility to perform its Huawei obligations within the ongoing trial without incurring sanctions, because otherwise the central idea underlying the ECJ decision of being able to negotiate without the burden of pending proceedings while having all necessary information to evaluate the FRAND conformity of the licensing offer would be diminished.
      Moreover, Claimant was not exempted from its respective Huawei obligation due to Defendant’s alleged lack of willingness to conclude a licensing agreement. In contrast, a fundamental unwillingness to enter into licensing negotiations was rejected, because Defendant, firstly, complained in letters of 20 November 2015 and 4 December 2015 about Claimant’s deficient explanation why the licensing fee should be FRAND according to Huawei; secondly, it made a counter-offer including royalties of 0.071% of the net sales price per unit and provided for an expert opinion elaborating on the FRAND character of this royalty; thirdly, it submitted an offer to transfer own patents prior to the proceedings; and lastly, even though conducted after the initiation of proceedings, Defendant deposited a considerable amount with the court, which should cover worldwide sales with its LTE/UMTS-based products.
    3. The standard implementer’s reaction
      The standard implementer is obliged to react to a licensing offer, even if it deems the later not as FRAND in accordance with Huawei [142] , unless it is established by means of summary examination that the licensing offer is evidently not FRAND and therefore constitutes an abuse of dominance.
  3. Other important issues
    Although the Mannheim court rejected the action for prohibitory injunction and for the recall of products for reasons of antitrust law, it confirmed, on the basis of § 140b PatG and § 242 BGB, Claimant’s application for information as well as for rendering account and granted damages in accordance with § 139 (2) PatG, because it found Defendant to infringe the patents in-suit.
    Besides, the Court denied the exhaustion of the patents in-suit. [143]
  • [139] The judges stated in an even more general manner that the infringement court shall not be required under Huawei to determine the FRAND terms, if the proceedings do not involve the payment of royalties, but only relate to actions for a prohibitory injunction or for the recall of products.
  • [140] See above OLG Karlsruhe, 31 May 2015 – Case No. 6 U 55/16
  • [141] See above OLG Düsseldorf, 9 May 2016 – Case No. 15 U 36/16
  • [142] See also LG Mannheim, 27 November 2015 – Case No. 2 O 106/14 and LG Düsseldorf, 3 November 2015 – Case No. 4a O 144/14
  • [143] Para. V, p. 34 et seq.

Updated 6 June 2017

Philips v Archos

LG Mannheim
17 November 2016 - Case No. 7 O 19/16

Prof. Dr. Philipp Maume, S.J.D. (La Trobe)

  1. Facts
    The claimant is an international electronics company, which owns a range of patents relating to mobile phone technology. In particular, the claimant owns the patent EP 1.440.525, which is allegedly essential for the UMTS and LTE standards. The defendant is a German subsidiary of a French multinational electronics company that offers Android tablets and smartphones which are compliant UMTS and LTE standards. On 5 July 2014, the claimant informed the defendant in writing that by marketing and selling mobile phones, the defendant is infringing standard essential patents owned by the claimant. On 15/16 September 2014, the claimant handed over written documents about its licensing program to the defendant. In a discussion on 25 November 2014, the defendant offered to transfer patents that it deemed essential to the standards in question. In a letter dated 28 July 2015, the claimant offered to grant a license for the relevant patent. This letter included a list of all allegedly infringing products and patents in question, and relevant technical details. The claimant sent additional technical information via email on 25 September 2015. On 12 January 2016, the defendant sent a written offer to enter into a license agreement for the claimant’s worldwide patent portfolio. The parties did not reach an agreement. The claimant commenced infringement proceedings in the District Court of Mannheim on 16 October 2015 (received by the court on 19 October 2015). The defendant subsequently made a deposit at the Bavarian Justice Exchequer at Bamberg in April 2016. The deposit was supposed to cover all royalties owed for the worldwide sale of LTE/UMTS devices by the defendant between 2012 and 30 June 2016. The court dismissed the actions for injunction, recall and destruction of products because the claimant had not complied with its obligations under EU competition law. However, the court ordered the defendant to render accounts and declared that the defendant was liable for compensation.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. Market Power and Notice of Infringement
      TThe court did not comment on the existence of a dominant market position. It focused on the notice of infringement and the license offer. The court held that the notice of infringement should enable the alleged infringer to examine and assess the patent situation. [150] It is insufficient to indicate that the alleged infringer is marketing products covered by a standard and is therefore infringing a patent. Rather, the SEP proprietor needs to specify the patent number and the standard for which it has been declared essential. The SEP proprietor also needs to describe the technical functionality of the standard which is at issue. The level of detail of these descriptions depends on the particular situation. [150] The SEP proprietor needs to take into consideration the level of the alleged infringer’s technological knowledge, or its ability to gain the required knowledge through professional advice. 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. However, the description does not need to be as thorough as a statement of claim in patent litigation.
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer
      The court stated that the SEP proprietor’s written license offer needs to contain all relevant aspects of the contract, to enable the alleged infringer to accept the offer. [151] If the alleged infringer argues that the conditions of this 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. The Court acknowledged that the Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe had rejected this view in the decision 6 U 55/16 of 31 May 2016. [152] The Mannheim District Court, however, reiterated its view that a reduced standard of review of the offered conditions is sufficient, referring to the final opinion given by the Advocate General in the ZTE/Huawei ruling. [151] It was, the court argued, the CJEU’s intention to keep the infringement proceedings free of the determination as to what precise conditions would exactly be FRAND in each particular situation. [151] Only an offer that is clearly abusive, i.e. evidently non-FRAND, would not meet the CJEU criteria at this point. [151]
      Of course, the SEP proprietor’s mere assertion that the offer is FRAND would be insufficient. [151] Instead, the Court requires the SEP proprietor to be transparent about the calculation. That means that it needs to specify how the terms of the license offer are calculated. [153] It needs to make clear the basis of the SEP proprietor’s conclusion that the offer is FRAND. Merely stating the royalties owed per unit (in this case: USD 1,- per unit without further explanation) [154] is also insufficient. Rather, the SEP proprietor needs to find a proper way of substantiating its view as to what royalties are owed. This could be a standard license agreement entered into with third parties, or other references such as fees for a pool license that contains SEPs of the respective standard.
      The SEP proprietor needs to make these explanations before it commences infringement proceedings. [155] Only then, the alleged infringer is able to assess the situation unburdened by the treat of an ongoing court case. The Court was aware that the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf had recently (Case No. I – 15 U 36/16, 9 May 2016) expressed its view that this understanding might be overly formal. However, the Mannheim District Court upheld its opinion that only a thorough explanation by the SEP proprietor enabled the alleged infringer an informed decision as to whether the license offer is FRAND. [155]
      The Court held that, in theory, the claimant could be exempt from this transparency obligation if the defendant had been unwilling to enter into a license agreement. [156] However, in the case at issue the defendant had demonstrated its willingness to enter into a license agreement. The Court took into account four factors:
      1. the defendant’s had repeatedly requested the claimant to explain the basis of the license offer calculation, [156]
      2. the defendant had offered to transfer some of its own patents in exchange, [156]
      3. the defendant had made an offer and had commissioned an expert opinion that elaborated why the respective conditions were FRAND, [156]
      4. the defendant had deposited a substantial amount. [157]
    3. Standard Implementer’s Reaction
      The Court repeated its view expressed in the decision 2 O 106/14 of 27 November 2015. [158] Accordingly, the alleged infringer needs to respond to the SEP proprietor’s offer, even if the infringer considers that the offer does not meet the FRAND criteria. The only possible exception is an offer that, by means of summary examination, is clearly not FRAND and therefore constitutes an abuse of market power. A potential counter offer needs to be made in due course, which means as soon as possible, taking into account the recognized commercial practices in the field and good faith.
  • [150] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 77
  • [151] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 78
  • [152] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 76
  • [153] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 79
  • [154] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 84
  • [155] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 86
  • [156] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 87
  • [157] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 88
  • [158] Case No. 7 O 19/16, para 80

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) [135] . 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 [136] .

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 [137] . The Defendant filed an action for invalidity against the Claimant’s SEP in Germany [137] .

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 [137] . Subsequently, several licensing offers and counter-offers were made by the Claimant and the parent company respectively [137] . 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 [138] . In response, the parent company confirmed that it is willing to obtain a licence, among others, by letter dated 7 September 2016 [139] . 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 [140] .

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 [141] . 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) [141] . This deadline was extended for almost three weeks until 7 May 2018 [141] .

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) [141] .

With the present judgment the Court ruled that the Defendant is liable for damages arising from the infringement of the SEP in suit [142] . The Court also ordered the Defendant to render accounts and to provide relevant information to the Claimant [142] . 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 [143] .


B. Court’s reasoning

The Court held that the products sold by the Defendant in Germany infringe Claimant’s SEP [144] . Thus, the Defendant is obliged to compensate the damages suffered by the Claimant and the previous holder of the patent in suit [142] . 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) [142] .

In the Court’s view, the Defendant cannot raise a defence based on a so-called “patent ambush” against these claims [145] . 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 [146] . 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” [146] . The Court held that the Defendant failed to establish such fact [145] . 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?) [145] .

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 [147] .

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 [148] . The wording of Article 6.1. ETSI IPR Policy establishes a respective assumption [148] . 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 [138] . 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 [138] . 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 [149] .

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 [147] . 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 [147] .

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 [147] . 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 [151] .

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 [152] .

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) [153] .

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 [138] . 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) [138] .

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) [154] .

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) [139] .

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 [139] .

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) [155] . 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 [139] .

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 [156] . Only then, the SEP user’s consequent obligation under the Huawei framework to make a FRAND counter-offer to the SEP holder is triggered [156] . 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 [156] . For the assessment of the non-discriminatory character of the offer, information on comparable agreements is needed [156] .

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 [157] . 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 [157] . 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”) [157] . 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 [158] . Otherwise, the initiation of the infringement proceedings shall be considered as abusive in terms of antitrust law [158] . In the present case, the Claimant chose to not ask for a stay in the proceedings, ignoring the Court’s respective indication [158] .


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 [159] . On the other hand, it does not define the ownership of the patent in material legal terms [160] . Nevertheless, the patent registration establishes an assumption of ownership which must be rebutted by the defendant in infringement proceedings based on concrete indications [161] .

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 [162] . As a rule, it must be expected with a sufficient degree of probability that the patent(s) in suit will be invalidated [162] . The Defendant failed convince the Court that this was the case with the SEP in suit [162] .

  • [135] District Court of Mannheim, judgment dated 28 September 2018, Case-No. 7 O 165/16, page 2 and 23.
  • [136] Ibid, page 23 et seq.
  • [137] Ibid, page 5.
  • [138] Ibid, page 25.
  • [139] Ibid, page 26.
  • [140] Ibid, pages 5 et seq.
  • [141] Ibid, page 6.
  • [142] Ibid, page 19.
  • [143] Ibid,page 23.
  • [144] Ibid, pages 16 et seqq.
  • [145] Ibid, page 20.
  • [146] Ibid, page 21.
  • [147] Ibid, page 22.
  • [148] Ibid, page 24.
  • [149] Ibid, pages 24 et seq.
  • [150] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgement dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-130/13.
  • [151] District Court of Mannheim, judgment dated 28 September 2018, Case-No. 7 O 165/16, pages 22.
  • [152] Ibid,pages 23 and 25.
  • [153] Ibid, page 23.
  • [154] Ibid, pages 23 and 25 et seq.
  • [155] Ibid, pages 26 et seqq.
  • [156] Ibid, page 27.
  • [157] Ibid, page 28.
  • [158] Ibid, page 29.
  • [159] Ibid, page 10.
  • [160] Ibid, pages 10 et seq.
  • [161] Ibid, page 11.
  • [162] Ibid, page 30.

Updated 26 January 2017

Saint Lawrence v Vodafone

OLG Düsseldorf
9 May 2016 - Case No. I-15 U 36/16

  1. Facts
    The proceedings concerned the subsequent application of Defendant in Case No. 4a O 73/14 seeking to suspend the execution of the district court’s decision until the appellate court has decided on the merits of an appeal brought by Defendant. As to the facts of the case, it can be referred to the summary above.
    Due to the specific nature of the proceedings, the standard of review was limited to a summary examination of the decision rendered by the court of first instance. The court of appeal can suspend execution only if it comes to the conclusion that the challenged decision will probably not be upheld in second instance because it appears manifestly erroneous.
  2. Court’s reasoning
    1. Notice of infringement and declaration of willingness to license
      Firstly, the court of appeal focused on the Huawei requirement to submit an infringement notification prior to the initiation of proceedings. Although the court voiced some doubts over whether a distinction between transitional and non-transitional cases is permitted and whether, in transitional cases, reliance of a SEP proprietor on the Orange Book standard of conduct is worthy of protection, it did not consider the result reached by the lower court as manifestly erroneous. Since the SEP proprietor has the option to withdraw its action, to perform its Huawei obligations and to re-file the claim afterwards, it seems overly formalistic to deny the option to perform the Huawei obligations within the ongoing trial. Among a number of further reasons [159] for its position the court stressed that the ECJ intended the Huawei framework to be fact-sensitive. [160]
      Secondly, the court confirmed the lower court’s view that Defendant did not comply with its Huawei obligation to express its willingness to conclude a licensing agreement because it reacted belatedly (more than five months after the infringement notification) and in an evasive manner. The fact that proceedings have been initiated by Claimant does not alter the Huawei requirements and Defendant will particularly not be granted more time to comply with its respective obligations. [161]
    2. The SEP owner’s licensing offer / The standard implementer’s reaction
      The court left it undecided whether the lower court erred in focusing on a licensing offer which Claimant presented solely to the Intervener but not to Defendant. According to the court the conduct of the parties required by Huawei constitutes a mechanism of alternating, consecutive steps in which no subsequent conduct requirement is triggered unless the other party performed the previous “step”. In consequence, Claimant was, in the present case, not obliged to submit a FRAND licensing offer at all since Defendant had failed to signal willingness to license. [162]
      The lower court’s finding that Claimant’s licensing offer was FRAND while the Intervener’s counter-offer failed to meet this threshold was accepted. Hence, the court considered it as irrelevant under the present circumstances—and as a completely open question in general—whether a SEP proprietor is obliged, before bringing an action for prohibitory injunction against the supplier of a standard-implementing device, to (cumulatively) submit a FRAND licensing offer not only to the supplier but also to the producer of said device. [163]
  3. Other important issues
    The remarks of the lower court rejecting, in the present case, a patent ambush-argument were not deemed manifestly erroneous, mainly because the lower court had reasonably argued that such an abusive practice would only result in the SEP proprietor’s obligation to grant licenses on FRAND terms. [164]
    Licensing negotiations (allegedly) undertaken by Defendant after the decision of the lower court provided no reason to suspense execution since it was not evident to the court that Defendant had thereby fulfilled its Huawei obligations. [165]
  • [159] For details, cf. OLG Düsseldorf, 9 May 2016 - Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, aa
  • [160] Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, aa
  • [161] Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, bb
  • [162] Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, cc
  • [163] Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, ff
  • [164] Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, ee
  • [165] Case No. I-15 U 36/16, para. 2, b, dd

Updated 3 December 2018

District Court, LG Düsseldorf

LG Düsseldorf
11 July 2018 - Case No. 4c O 81/17

A. Facts

The Claimant holds a patent essential to the data communication standards ADSL2+ and VDSL2 (Standard Essential Patent or SEP) [163] . The previous holder of the patent in question had declared towards the standardization organisation International Telecommunication Union (ITU) its willingness to make the patent accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions [164] .

The Defendant offers communication services in Germany to retail and wholesale clients, including DSL connections using the standards ADSL2+ and VDSL2 [165] .

The Intervener supplies the Defendant with equipment (especially DSL transceivers and DSL Boards), allowing network services based on the above standards [165] .

In January 2016, the Claimant brought an action against the Defendant before the District Court (Landgericht) of Düsseldorf (Court) requesting for a declaratory judgement recognizing Defendant’s liability for damages arising from the infringement of its SEP as well as the provision of information and the rendering of accounts (liability proceedings) [166] . During the course of these proceedings, the Claimant made two offers for a licensing agreement to the Defendant. The Defendant made a counter-offer to the Claimant and provided security for the use of the SEP [167] . The parties failed to reach an agreement.

In June 2016, the Defendant filed an action for a declaratory judgement against the Claimant before the Dublin High Court in Ireland, requesting the High Court to declare that both Claimant’s offers were not FRAND and that Defendant’s counter-offer was FRAND [168] . Taking the ongoing liability proceedings in Germany into account, the Dublin High Court stayed its proceedings [168] .

In September 2017, the Claimant brought a second action against the Defendant before the District Court of Düsseldorf, requesting for injunctive relief (injunction proceedings) [169] . In February 2018, the Claimant made another licensing offer to the Defendant in the pending injunction proceedings [167] .

With the present judgment, the Court dismissed Claimant’s action in the injunction proceedings [170] .


B. Court’s reasoning

Although the Court held that the services offered by the Defendant infringe the SEP in suit [171] , it found that the Claimant cannot enforce its patent rights for the time being [172] , since it failed to fully comply with the obligations stipulated by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in the matter Huawei v ZTEHuaweiv ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13. (Huawei obligations or framework) with respect to dominant undertakings in terms of Article 102 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) [170] .

1. Dominant market position

The Court found that the Claimant holds a dominant market position in terms of Article 102 TFEU [174] .

In the Court’s eyes, the relevant market for assessing dominance with regards to SEPs is, as a rule, the (downstream) market for products or services implementing the standard, to which the SEP refers [175] . Each SEP outlines an own relevant (licensing) market, unless – from the SEP users’ perspective – equivalent alternative technologies for the same technical problem exist [176] . Since the Court held that, in the present case, none of the existing technological alternatives to the standards ADSL2+ and VDSL2 (e.g. HFC networks, LTE, HDSL, SHDSL, ADSL, SDSL, VDSL, fibre optic networks, radio relay technology or internet services via satellite) offers an equivalent solution to users [177] , it defined the relevant market as the market for products and services allowing for internet connections through DSL technology [178] .

Regarding to the subsequent question of whether the Claimant has a dominant position in the above market, the Court first made clear that ownership of a SEP does not per se establish such condition [179] . The fact that a patent is essential to a standard does neither give rise to the (rebuttable) presumption that the SEP holder can distort competition in downstream markets, because products complying with the standard need to use the SEP [179] . Since a high number of patents is usually declared as standard essential, not every SEP can actually (significantly) affect the competitiveness of products or services in downstream markets; the effect of each SEP on a downstream market has, therefore, to be established on a case-by-case basis by taking into account the circumstances of each individual case [179] .

The Court explained that a dominant market position is given, when the use of the SEP is required for entering the market, particularly for securing the general technical interoperability and compatibility of products or services under a standard [179] . The same is true, if the patent user could not market competitive products or services without a licence (for instance, because only a niche market exists for non-compliant products) [179] . No market dominance exists, however, when the SEP covers a technology which is only of little importance to the majority of the buyers in the relevant market [179] .

According to the Court, the latter was not the case here; on the contrary, the Defendant cannot offer competitive products or services in the market for DSL internet connections, without using the SEP in suit [180] .

2. Huawei framework

In the Court’s view, the parties to SEP licensing negotiations need to fulfill the mutual conduct obligations under the Huawei framework step by step and one after another [181] . The Court did not see any flaws in the parties’ conduct with respect to the first two steps of the Huawei framework (SEP holder’s notification of infringement and SEP user’s declaration of willingness to obtain a licence), held, however, that the Claimant did not meet its consequent obligation to make a FRAND licensing offer to the Defendant [182] .

Notification of infringement

The Court found that the Claimant had fulfilled its obligation to notify the Defendant about the infringing use of the SEP in suit prior to the commencement of the injunction proceedings [183] .

First, the Court pointed out that a respective notification (as well as a later licensing offer) can be made by the SEP holder itself, or by any other affiliated company within the same group of companies, especially by the patent holder’s parent company [184] . On the other hand, it is not required that the infringement notification is addressed to the company that will later be party to the infringement proceedings; in general, it is sufficient to address the notification to the parent company within a group of companies [184] .

In terms of content, the notification of infringement must name the patent in suit (including the patent number) and indicate the contested embodiments as well as the (allegedly) infringing acts of use [185] . A detailed (technical and/or legal) explanation of the infringement (particularly an analysis of how the individual features of the patent claims are infringed) is not required; the addressee needs just to be put in the position to assess the infringement allegations, if necessary by seeking expert advice [185] . In this context, the Court disagreed with the District Court of Mannheim which had requested the SEP holder to inform the user about the essentiality of the patent to the standard and/or attach claim charts to the notification of infringement [185] .

In terms of timeliness, the Court took the view that the notification of infringement can be made alongside with SEP holder’s offer for a FRAND licence to the user (prior to the initiation of court proceedings) [186] . In this case, the second step under the Huawei framework will be skipped (that is the SEP user’s declaration of its willingness to obtain a licence). According to the Court, this fact does not, however, have an impact on the SEP holder’s position: If the SEP user is willing to enter into a licence, this approach would safe time (although the SEP user should be granted more time than usual to assess and react to both the notification of infringement and the FRAND offer) [186] . If, on the other hand, the SEP user is unwilling to obtain a FRAND licence, then the SEP holder will just have made a licensing offer absent a respective obligation under the Huawei framework [186] .

In the present case, the fact that the Claimant did not make a separate notification of infringement prior to the initiation of the injunction proceedings, was not considered problematic. The Court pointed out that the Defendant was fully informed about the infringement allegation by the action for damages raised by the Claimant long before the injunction proceedings, so that a separate notification was not required [187] .

Willingness to obtain a FRAND licence

The Court further found that the Defendant had fulfilled its Huawei obligation to express its willingness to obtain a FRAND licence [188] .

In terms of content, no high demands should be placed on the SEP user’s respective declaration; it is not subject to formal requirements and can be of a general nature, as long as the willingness to obtain a licence is clearly stated [189] . Given the circumstances of the specific case, even an implicit behaviour can suffice [189] .

In terms of timeliness, the Court held that a strict deadline, within which the SEP user ought to make its declaration, cannot be set [190] . The respective time frame must be determined on a case-by-case basis under consideration of the circumstances of each case [190] . If the SEP holder’s notification of infringement contains only the minimum required information, a reaction within a period of five or even three months at the most could be expected [190] . In case that the infringement notification contains information going beyond the required minimum, an even quicker reaction could be required from the SEP user under certain circumstances [190] .

In the present case, the Court held that the Defendant has implicitly declared its willingness to enter into a FRAND licence with the Claimant at the latest at the point in time, in which the injunction proceedings were initiated [191] . At that time, the Defendant had already made a counter-offer for a FRAND licence to the Claimant and had also provided security for the use of Claimant’s patents [192] .

In this context, the Court noted that neither the fact that the Defendant contested Claimant’s claims in the parallel liability proceedings not the fact that it raised an action for declaratory judgement against the Claimant before the Dublin High Court can support the argument that the Defendant has deviated from its previous declaration of willingness [193] .

SEP holder’s licensing offer

The Court held that the offer which the Claimant made to the Defendant in course of the injunction proceedings was not FRAND [194] . Since the Claimant expressly relied only on this offer to establish its compliance with the Huawei framework, the Court did not assess the FRAND conformity of the two previous offers of the Claimant to the Defendant [167] .

In terms of timeliness, the Court stressed out that the SEP holder must make a FRAND licensing offer to the user before the initiation of infringement proceedings [195] . Under German procedural law, proceedings are initiated after the claimant has made the required advance payment on costs, even if the statement of claims has not been served to the defendant, yet [196] .

The Court did not rule out that SEP holder’s failure to fulfil its Huawei obligations prior to the commencement of infringement proceedings can be remedied during the course of the proceedings [197] . Depending on the circumstances of each case, the SEP holder should be given the opportunity – within the limits of procedural deadlines – to react to (justified) objections of the SEP user and eventually modify its offer [197] . Denying the SEP holder this opportunity without exceptions would be contrary to the principle of procedural economy; the patent holder would be forced to withdraw its pending action, make a modified licensing offer to the patent user and, subsequently, sue the latter again [197] . In this context, the Court explained that failure to meet the Huawei obligations does not permanently impair SEP holder’s rights [198] . Notwithstanding the above, the Court made, however, clear that the possibility of remedying a flawed licensing offer is subject to narrow limits; the CJEU intended to relieve licensing negotiations between SEP holder and SEP user from the burden imposed on parties by ongoing infringement proceedings, and particularly the potential undue pressure to enter into a licensing agreement which such proceedings can put on the SEP user [199] .

Against this background, the Court expressed doubts that the Claimant’s licensing offer, which was made in the course of the pending injunction proceedings could be considered as timely [169] . Nevertheless, the Court left this question open, because, in its eyes, the Claimant’s offer was not FRAND in terms of content [200] .

The Court did not deem necessary to decide whether the FRAND conformity of the SEP holder’s offer must be fully assessed in infringement proceedings, or whether only a summary assessment of its compatibility with FRAND suffices [201] . In the Court’s view, Claimant’s offer was anyway both not fair and discriminatory [202] .

Fair and reasonable terms

The Court held that the licensing terms offered by the Claimant to the Defendant were not fair and reasonable [203] .

First, the terms did not adequately consider the effects of patent exhaustion [204] . As a rule, FRAND requires licensing offers to contain respective provisions [205] . The clause contained in Claimant’s offer, establishing the possibility of a reduction of the royalties owed by the Defendant in case of the exhaustion of licensed patents, is not fair, because it puts the burden of proof regarding to the amount of the reasonable reduction of the royalties on the Defendant’s shoulders [206] .

Second, the clause, according to which Defendant’s payment obligations regarding to past uses of the SEP in suit should be finally settled without exceptions and/or the possibility to claim reimbursement, was also considered not fair [207] . The Defendant would be obliged to pay royalties for past uses, although it is not clear whether the Claimant is entitled to such payments [208] .

Third, the Court found that the exclusion of the Defendant’s wholesale business from Claimant’s licensing offer was also not fair [209] . According to the principle of contractual autonomy, patent holders are free to choose to which stage of the distribution chain they offer licences [210] . In the present case, however, excluding a significant part of the Defendant’s overall business, namely the wholesale business, from the licensing offer, hinders a fair market access [210] .

Non-discrimination

Besides from the above, the Court ruled that the Claimant’s offer was discriminatory [211] .

To begin with, the Court stressed out that FRAND refers to a range of acceptable royalty rates: As a rule, there is not only a single FRAND-compliant royalty rate [201] . Furthermore, as far as a corresponding commercial/industry practice exists, offers for worldwide portfolio licences are, in general, in line with the Huawei framework, unless the circumstances of the individual case require a different approach (for instance a limitation of the geographical scope of the licence, in case that the user is active only in a single market) [212] .

Furthermore, the Court explained that the non-discriminatory element of FRAND does not oblige the SEP holder to treat all users uniformly [213] . The respective obligation applies only to similarly situated users, whereas exceptions are allowed, provided that a different treatment is justified [213] . In any case, SEP holders are obliged to specify the royalty calculation in a manner that allows the user to assess whether the offered conditions are non-discriminatory or not. The respective information needs to be shared along with the licensing offer; only when the SEP user has obtained this information a licensing offer triggering an obligation of the latter to react is given [214] .

In the Court’s view, presenting all existing essential licensing agreements concluded with third parties, covering the SEPs in suit or a patent portfolio including said SEPs (comparable agreements), has priority over other means for fulfilling this obligation [215] . In addition, SEP holders have to produce also court decisions rendered on the FRAND-conformity of the rates agreed upon in the comparable agreements, if such decisions exist [216] .

Whether presenting comparable agreements (and relevant case law) suffices for establishing the non-discriminatory character of the offered royalty rates depends on the number and the scope of the available agreementsI [217] . In case that no or not enough comparable agreements exist, SEP holders must (additionally) present decisions referring to the validity and/or the infringement of the patents in question and agreements concluded between other parties in the same or a comparable technical field, which they are aware of [218] . If the SEP in suit is part of a patent portfolio, SEP holders must also substantiate the content of the portfolio and its impact on the offered royalty rates [219] .

Having said that, the Court pointed out that an unequal treatment resulting in a discrimination in antitrust terms is not only at hand, when a dominant patent holder grants preferential terms to specific licensees, but also when it chooses to enforce its exclusion rights under a SEP in a selective manner [220] . The latter is the case, when the SEP holder brings infringement actions only against certain competitors and, at the same time, allows other competitors to use its patent(s) without a licence [220] . However, such a conduct is discriminatory only if, depending on the overall circumstances of each case (for instance, the extend of the infringing use and the legal remedies available in the country, in which claims need to be asserted), it would have been possible for the SEP holder with reasonable efforts to enforce its patent rights against other infringers (which it was or should have been aware of) [220] . In favour of an equal treatment of competitors, the level of action which must be taken by the SEP holder in this respect should not be defined narrowly [220] . However, it has to be taken into account, that – especially in the early stages of the implementation of a standard – the SEP holder will usually not have the means required to enforce its rights against a large number of infringers; in this case, the choice to enforce its rights only against infringers with market strength first appears reasonable [221] .

Based on the above considerations, the Court ruled that the Claimant’s choice to sue only the Defendant and its two main competitors, without asserting the SEP in suit against the rest of their competitors, respectively against their suppliers, was discriminatory [222] . The Claimant should have already, at least, requested the companies, against which no action was filed, to obtain a licence, particularly since the remaining period of validity of the SEP in suit is limited [223] . Furthermore, the Court found that the Claimant’s refusal to make a licensing offer to the Intervener, although the latter had requested for a licence, was also discriminatory; in the Court’s view, the Claimant failed to provide an explanation justifying this choice [224] .

Since the Claimant’s offer was found to be non-compliant with FRAND, the Court refrained from ruling on the conformity of Defendant’s counter-offer and the security provided with the Huawei framework [225] .


C. Other issues

The Court ruled that in accordance with Article 30 para. 3 of the German Patent Law (PatG) the registration in the patent register establishes the presumption of ownership, allowing the entity which is registered as patent holder to assert the rights arising from the patent before court [226] .

  • [163] District Court of Düsseldorf, 11 July 2018, Case-No. 4c O 81/17Ibid, paras. 3 and 82.
  • [164] Ibid, para. 13.
  • [165] Ibid, para. 12.
  • [166] Ibid, paras. 14 and 211.
  • [167] Ibid, para. 15.
  • [168] Ibid, para. 16.
  • [169] Ibid, para. 236.
  • [170] Ibid, paras. 140 and 313 et seqq.
  • [171] Ibid, paras. 114 et seqq.
  • [172] Ibid, paras. 60 and 140.
  • [173] Huaweiv ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13.
  • [174] Ibid, para. 142.
  • [175] Ibid, para. 148.
  • [176] Ibid, paras. 153 and 146.
  • [177] Ibid, paras. 159 - 181.
  • [178] Ibid, para. 158.
  • [179] Ibid, para. 147.
  • [180] Ibid, paras. 183 et seqq.
  • [181] Ibid, para. 191.
  • [182] Ibid, para. 188.
  • [183] Ibid, paras. 195 et seqq.
  • [184] Ibid, para. 199.
  • [185] Ibid, para. 198.
  • [186] Ibid, para. 200.
  • [187] Ibid, para. 203.
  • [188] Ibid, para. 205.
  • [189] Ibid, para. 208.
  • [190] Ibid, para. 207.
  • [191] Ibid, para. 210.
  • [192] Ibid, para. 212.
  • [193] Ibid, paras. 215 et seq.
  • [194] Ibid, para. 220.
  • [195] Ibid, paras. 222 et seqq.
  • [196] Ibid, para. 225.
  • [197] Ibid, para. 233.
  • [198] Ibid, para. 228.
  • [199] Ibid, para. 230.
  • [200] Ibid, para. 237.
  • [201] Ibid. para. 241.
  • [202] Ibid, para. 242.
  • [203] Ibid, paras. 283 et seqq.
  • [204] Ibid, para. 285.
  • [205] Ibid, para. 288.
  • [206] Ibid, paras. 292 et seq.
  • [207] Ibid, paras. 298 et seqq.
  • [208] Ibid, para. 301.
  • [209] Ibid, para. 306.
  • [210] Ibid, para. 311.
  • [211] Ibid, para. 271.
  • [212] Ibid, para. 250.
  • [213] Ibid, para. 248.
  • [214] Ibid, para. 267.
  • [215] Ibid, paras. 256 and 259 et seq.
  • [216] Ibid, para. 262.
  • [217] bid, paras. 258 and 264.
  • [218] Ibid, paras. 263 and 265.
  • [219] Ibid, para. 265.
  • [220] Ibid, para. 273.
  • [221] Ibid, para. 274.
  • [222] Ibid, para. 276.
  • [223] Ibid, para. 277.
  • [224] Ibid, para. 281.
  • [225] Ibid, para. 315.
  • [226] Ibid, paras. 75 et seq.

Updated 6 June 2019

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

Dutch court decisions
7 May 2019 - Case No. 200.221.250/01

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.

Updated 26 January 2017

Saint Lawrence v Vodafone

OLG Düsseldorf
9 May 2016 - Case No. I-15 U 35/16

The proceedings concerned the subsequent application of Defendant in Case No. 4a O 126/14 seeking to suspend execution of the lower court’s decision. As Cases No. 4a O 126/14 and No. 4a O 73/14 are interconnected, the Court came to the same conclusions and framed them in exactly the same wording as in its decision OLG Düsseldorf, 9 May 2016 - Case No. I-15 U 36/16 (cf. above). Therefore, no separate and detailed summary is provided here.


Updated 12 March 2019

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (MPEG-LA) v ZTE.

LG Düsseldorf
9 November 2018 - Case No. Case-No. 4a O 15/15

A. Facts

The Claimant, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung, holds a patent essential to the practice of the AVC/H.264 standard concerning the compression of video data (Standard Essential Patent of SEP) [1] . The patent holder committed towards the relevant standardization body to make this patent accessible to users on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions. The Claimant contributed the SEP in question to a patent pool administered by MPEG LA LLC (MPEG LA), comprising more the 5,000 patents referring to the AVC/H.264 standard (MPEG LA pool) [2] .

The Defendant, a German subsidiary of a Chinese group of companies, sells – among other things – mobile phones manufactured by its parent company (parent company) which practise the AVC/H.264 standard in Germany [3] .

MPEG LA uses a standard licensing agreement, which is publicly available at its website [4] . It has signed licensing agreements with approx. 1,400 implementers [4] .

By e-mail dated 8 September 2011, MPEG LA sent a copy of its standard licensing agreement to the Defendant’s parent company and informed the latter that its “mobile handset and tablet products” infringe patents included in its “AVC patent portfolio” (without indicating, however, either the concrete patent numbers or the specific infringing products) [5] .

On 15 September 2011, the parent company asked MPEG LA to send any relevant documents by mail to its IPR Manager [6] . A copy of MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement reached the parent company in late September 2011 [7] .

In 2012, the parent company acquired patents included in the MPEG LA pool [2] .

Since MPEG-LA and the parent company could not reach an agreement on a licence covering the MPEG LA pool [8] , the Claimant brought an action against the Defendant before the District Court of Düsseldorf in Germany (Court), requesting for injunctive relief, information and rendering of accounts, the destruction and the recall of infringing products as well as for a declaratory judgement confirming Defendant’s liability for damages on the merits [9] .

During the proceedings, the Defendant declared its willingness to obtain a licence for the patent in suit and other SEPs of the Claimant referring to the AVC/H.264 standard [10] . Moreover, the Defendant sent to MPEG LA two signed copies of MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement, along with a statement of accounts of its past sales and a bank guarantee [11] . MPEG LA did not countersign this agreement. It insisted, instead, on a licence that would cover all companies belonging to the same group as the Defendant [12] .

With the present judgment, the Court granted Claimant’s requests.


B. Court’s reasoning

The Court held that the mobile phones sold by the Defendant in Germany infringe Claimant’s SEP in suit [13] . It also found that by filing the present suit the Claimant did not abuse its dominant market position in violation of Article 102 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), since it had fully complied with the conduct obligations stipulated by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in the matter Huawei v ZTE [14] (Huawei obligations or framework) with respect to dominant undertakings [15] .

1. Dominant market position

The Court found that the Claimant holds a dominant market position in terms of Article 102 TFEU [16] .

The Court defined the relevant market for the assessment of dominance as the market for licences for any given patent [17] . A dominant market position can further also exist, when the patent holder can hinder competition in downstream markets for standard-compliant products and services [17] .

The Court made, however, clear that ownership of a SEP does not per se establish market dominance [18] . A dominant market position is given, when the use of the SEP is required for entering the market [18] . The same is true, if the patent user could not market competitive products or services, without access to the respective SEP [18] .

Based on these considerations, the Court saw no ‘reasonable’ doubt that the Claimant was a dominant undertaking: It was undisputed that almost all mobile phones available worldwide use the AVC/H.264 standard and that no “realistic” alternative to the MPEG LA pool existed in the licensing market for patents essential to this standard [19] .

2. Huawei framework

The Court found, however, that the Claimant did not abuse its dominant position by suing the Defendant in the present case, since its conduct was in line with the Huawei framework [20] . The Huawei framework establishes mutual conduct obligations for both SEP holders and SEP users, which need to be fulfilled step by step and one after another (meaning that each party’s obligation to act arises only after the other party has fulfilled its own obligation) [21] . Subject to the Huawei framework is not only the patent holder’s claim for injunctive relief, but also the claim for the destruction of infringing products [22] .

In this context, the Court pointed out that the Huawei framework applies, irrespective of whether a ‘well-established’ licensing practice concerning the asserted patents already existed before the CJEU delivered the Huawei judgment, or not [23] . The Claimant had argued that, in the present case, the Court should apply the (German) legal standard that preceded the Huawei framework (which was based on the so-called ‘Orange-Book-Standard’ ruling of the Federal Supreme Court [24] ), since with respect to the SEP in suit a ‘routine’ practice already existed prior to the Huawei judgement [25] . The Court explained that the Huawei judgment does not contain either an explicit or an implicit limitation of its scope of application [26] . Furthermore, even if a ‘well-established’ licensing practice existed, the need to apply the Huawei framework will still be given, in order to bridge the nevertheless existing information gap between patent holder and implementer concerning the (potential) infringement of SEPs [27] . Finally, it would be very challenging for courts to distinguish whether a ‘well-established’ licensing practice excluding the application of the Huawei framework is at hand, or not [28] . Notwithstanding the above, according to the Court, the actual licensing practice of the patent holder could be of ‘particular significance’ when assessing the compliance of the latter with the Huawei obligations: Such practice could, for instance, serve as an indicator of the appropriateness of SEP holder’s licensing offer to the implementer [29] .

Having said that, the Court found no flaws in Claimant’s conduct. In the Court’s view, the Claimant had met its Huawei obligation to notify the Defendant about the infringement of its patent as well as the obligation to present the Defendant with a written licensing offer covering also the patent in suit. The Defendant, on the other hand, adequately expressed its willingness to enter into a licence, failed, however, to make a FRAND counter-offer to the Claimant. Since an adequate counter-offer was missing, the Court did not take up the question whether the bank guarantee provided by the Claimant to MPEG LA constitutes an adequate security in terms of the Huawei framework [30] .

Notification of infringement

The Court ruled that the Claimant had adequately notified the Defendant about the infringement of the SEP in suit through the e-mail sent by MPEG LA to the parent company on 8 September 2011 [31] .

The fact that this e-mail was not addressed to the Defendant, but to the parent company, did not raise any concerns as to the compatibility of the notification with the Huawei framework. The Court explained that a notification of infringement addressed only to the parent company of a group of companies is sufficient, as far as it can be assumed that the notification will be forwarded to the subsidiaries con­cerned [32] . The sole fact that a company belongs to a group justifies such an assumption, unless indications to the contrary exist [32] . This was, however, not the case here.

Besides that, the Court did not consider it inappropriate that the aforementioned e-mail was not sent to the parent company by the Claimant, but by MPEG LA (which is not the holder of the SEP in suit) [33] . The Court held that MPEG LA is entitled to perform legal actions in connection with the licensing of the MPEG LA pool on behalf of the Claimant [34] . The Defendant could not contest that this was not the case, since MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement, which it is aware of, contains an indication about MPEG LA’s respective capacity [35] . In addition, the Defendant’s parent company was also aware of MPEG LA’s capacity to act on behalf of the Claimant, since it joined the MPEG LA pool as a patent holder in 2012 [36] .

The Court further ruled that, in terms of content, a notification of infringement must – at least – name the patent in suit (including the patent number) and indicate the contested embodiments as well as the (allegedly) infringing acts of use [37] . A detailed (technical and/or legal) explanation of the infringement is not required; the implementer needs just to be put in the position to assess the infringement allegations, if necessary, by seeking expert advice [38] . A notification of infringement is, therefore, not necessary, when it constitutes just a ‘pointless formality’ [38] . This is true, when according to the overall circumstances of the case, one can safely assume that the implementer is aware of the infringement, so that claiming that the SEP holder failed to provide adequate notification prior to the initiation of court proceedings would appear to be abusive [38] . The respective test is, however, subject to strict conditions [38] .

Based on the above considerations, the Court found that MPEG LA’s e-mail to the parent company dated 8 September 2011 should be considered – as an exception – to constitute a sufficient notification of infringement, although it did not contain the minimum information required (particularly the patent number and a reference to the specific infringing embodiments) [39] . The overall circumstances of the case (especially the fact that the parent company acquired patents included in the MPEG LA pool in 2012 and had also previously been in contact with MPEG LA regarding a standard licensing agreement) [40] , give rise to the assumption that the parent company had already been aware of the MPEG LA pool and the fact that AVC/H.264-compliant products need to be licensed [41] .

Willingness to obtain a FRAND-licence

The Court held that the parent company had adequately expressed its willingness to obtain a FRAND-licence through the e-mail sent to MPEG LA on 15 September 2011 [42] .

In the eyes of the Court, this e-mail indicates the parent company’s intention to deal with issues concerning the licensing of patents referring to the AVC/H.264 standard. This is sufficient under the Huawei framework [43] . The implementer is not required to refer to a specific licensing agreement [43] .

SEP holder’s licensing offer

The Court further found that the standard licensing agreement sent by MPEG LA to the parent company presents an offer accountable to the Claimant which is in line with the Huawei framework in terms of both form and content [44] .

The fact that the offer was addressed to the parent company and not to the Defendant was not relevant, since the parties were discussing about a licensing agreement on group level and the parent company had itself requested to receive the draft agreement [45] .

Furthermore, the fact that the draft agreement sent to the parent company did not directly provide for the licensing of all subsidiaries (including the Defendant) was also not considered as harmful [46] . Insofar, the Court held that under the Huawei framework it is, as a rule, acceptable that the patent holder enters into licensing negotiations only with the parent company within a group of companies [47] . Whether subsidiaries can (or should) also be licensed, will be the object of these negotiations [48] . An exception would apply only then, when it is made clear already at the beginning of the licensing negotiations that the offer made to the parent company cannot include its subsidiaries [49] . This was, however, not the case here, since the standard licensing agreement sent to the parent company indicates MPEG LA’s willingness to grant licences also to the subsidiaries of the former [50] .

Besides that, the Court did not consider the fact that the standard licensing agreement sent to the parent company did not cover the sale of licensed products to wholesalers and retailers (but regarded only sales to end users) to be in conflict with the Huawei framework, although the Defendant was engaged also in this business [51] . According to the Court, sales to wholesalers and retailers would be covered by the effects of patent exhaustion, even without an express provision in a potential licensing agreement [52] .

The Court further ruled that the Huawei requirement, according to which the SEP holder’s licensing offer must specify the royalty calculation, was met, although the draft standard licensing agreement sent to the parent company does not contain detailed explanation of the way the royalties were calculated [53] . In the Court’s view, the respective explanation does not require a ‘strict mathematical derivation’ of the royalty; moreover, it will, as a rule, suffice to demonstrate that the (standard) royalty rates offered have been accepted in the market by presenting existing licensing agreements with third parties (comparable agreements) [54] . If a sufficient number of comparable licences is presented, then the SEP holder will usually not be required to provide further information regarding the appropriateness of its licensing offer [54] . It will need, however, to provide information on all essential comparable agreements, in order to rule out the risk that only agreements supporting the offered royalty level are presented [54] . In this context, the Court noted that it cannot be required from the SEP holder to present all comparable agreements along with the licensing offer to the implementer; a respective industry practice does not exist [55] .

Against this background, the Court did not consider it to be harmful that the standard licensing agreement sent to the parent company by MPEG LA did not include a detailed explanation of the royalty calculation in the above sense [56] . On the one hand, the parent company was aware that this (standard) agreement had been accepted in the market by a great number of licensees [56] . On the other hand, the parent company was also adequately aware of the way the offered royalties were calculated, since it held patents included in the MPEG LA pool itself [57] .

Apart from the above, the Court held that the standard licensing agreement offered to the parent company was FRAND also in terms of content.

According to the Court, a licensing offer cannot be considered as fair and reasonable, if the patent holder requests royalties that go significantly beyond the (hypothetical) price that would have been formed in an effectively competitive market, unless there is a commercial justification for the royalty level requested [58] . Particularly in connection with the licensing of SEPs, an offer can lie outside the FRAND-scope, if the cumulative royalty burden imposed on the implementer would not be tenable in commercial terms [58] . The Court made clear that in this context, no exact mathematical derivation of a FRAND-conform royalty rate is required; moreover, an approximate value is to be determined based on assessments and estimations [58] . In this respect, comparable agreements can serve as an ‘important indicator’ of the fair and reasonable character of the offered royalty rates [58] .

Regarding to the non-discriminatory element of FRAND, the Court pointed out that it applied only to similar situated cases; an unequal treatment is allowed, as long as it is objectively justified [59] . Limitations in this context may especially occur, when the implementation of the patent is necessary for entering a downstream market or when a product becomes competitive only when it uses the patent’s teachings [59] . As a rule, the burden of proof with respect to the discriminatory character of a licensing offer rests on the implementer. Since the latter will usually not be aware of the existence or the content of comparable agreements of the patent holder, it may seem appropriate to request the patent holder to provide the implementer with respective details, as far as this is reasonable [60] . The information to be shared should cover all existing licensees and include which (concretely designated) company with which importance in the relevant market has obtained a licence on which conditions [60] .

Looking at the standard licensing agreement sent to the parent company, the Court observed that the fact the MPEG LA sought for a licence covering all companies within the group, to which the Defendant belonged, was not violating FRAND principles [61] . In the electronics and mobile communications industries, licences covering a group of companies are in line with the industry practice [62] . Patent holder have a special interest in concluding such licences particularly in cases, in which – as in the present case – the parent company manufactures products which are sold worldwide by its subsidiaries. This is because licences at group level makes sure that patent holders can enforce their rights effectively, without having to distinguish between licenced and unlicenced products within a group of companies [63] .

In addition, the Court made clear that pool licences, as the one offered to the parent company, are appropriate under the Huawei framework [64] . An offer for a pool licence cannot per se be seen as abusive (Article 101 TFEU) [65] . On the contrary, such licences usually serve the interest of potential licensees to be granted access to the whole standard on uniform conditions under one roof, without having to seek a licence from every single patent holder separately [65] .

Implementer’s counter-offer

The Court found that the Defendant failed to make a FRAND counter-offer [66] .

Sending signed copies of MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement back to MPEG LA can be regarded as a counter-offer [67] . The fact, however, that this offer concerned a licence limited to the Defendant and, thus, not covering the parent company (and all further companies belonging to the same group) was not FRAND conform [68] . The Court accepted that licences at group level mirror the industry practice in the field in question; accordingly, no objections can be raised when a patent holder contributing its patents to a pool is willing to grant only licences covering all group companies [69] .

Since the counter-offer was not FRAND in terms of content, the Court did not have to decide, whether it was made in due time, or not [70] .

  • [1] Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (MPEG-LA) v ZTE, District Court of Düsseldorf, judgement dated 9 November 2018, cited by www.nrwe.de, para. 56.
  • [2] Ibid, para. 58
  • [3] Ibid, para. 57
  • [4] Ibid, para. 59
  • [5] Ibid, paras. 61 et seqq. and 340
  • [6] Ibid, para. 65
  • [7] Ibid, para. 66
  • [8] Ibid, para. 73
  • [9] Ibid, para. 42
  • [10] bid, para. 74
  • [11] Ibid, paras. 75 et seq
  • [12] Ibid, para. 75
  • [13] Ibid, paras. 127 – 254
  • [14] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13
  • [15] Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (MPEG-LA) v ZTE, District Court of Düsseldorf, judgement dated 9 November 2018, cited by www.nrwe.de, Ibid, para. 280
  • [16] Ibid, para. 283 and paras. 291 et seqq
  • [17] Ibid, para. 286
  • [18] Ibid, para. 287
  • [19] Ibid, paras. 291 et seqq
  • [20] Ibid, para. 296
  • [21] Ibid, para. 300
  • [22] Ibid, para. 302
  • [23] Ibid, para. 308
  • [24] Under the ‘Orange-Book-Standard’ regime, in order to avoid an injunction, the implementer was required to make a licensing offer to the patent holder, which the latter could not refuse without acting in an anticompetitive manner; see Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof), judgment dated 6 May 2009, Case No. KZR 39/06
  • [25] Ibid, para. 305
  • [26] Ibid, paras. 306 et seqq
  • [27] Ibid, para. 310
  • [28] Ibid, para. 311
  • [29] Ibid, para. 312
  • [30] Ibid, para. 421
  • [31] Ibid, para. 314
  • [32] Ibid, para. 320
  • [33] Ibid, para. 318
  • [34] Ibid, para. 329
  • [35] Ibid, paras. 336 et seq
  • [36] Ibid, para. 338
  • [37] Ibid, para. 198
  • [38] Ibid, para. 315
  • [39] Ibid, paras. 340 et seq
  • [40] Ibid, paras. 342 et seqq
  • [41] Ibid, para. 344
  • [42] Ibid, para. 346
  • [43] Ibid, para. 348
  • [44] Ibid, para. 352
  • [45] Ibid, para. 367
  • [46] Ibid, para. 369
  • [47] Ibid, para. 370
  • [48] Ibid, para. 378
  • [49] Ibid, para. 371
  • [50] Ibid, para. 374
  • [51] Ibid, para. 376
  • [52] Ibid, para. 377
  • [53] Ibid, para. 380
  • [54] Ibid, para. 381
  • [55] Ibid, para. 386
  • [56] Ibid, para. 382
  • [57] Ibid, para. 387
  • [58] Ibid, para. 391
  • [59] Ibid, para. 392
  • [60] Ibid, para. 393
  • [61] Ibid, para. 397
  • [62] Ibid, para. 398
  • [63] Ibid, para. 399
  • [64] Ibid, para. 402
  • [65] Ibid, para. 404
  • [66] Ibid, para. 410
  • [67] Ibid, para. 413
  • [68] Ibid, para. 416
  • [69] Ibid, para. 417
  • [70] Ibid, para. 411

Updated 30 October 2018

Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK Court of Appeal

English court decisions
23 October 2018 - Case No. A3/2017/1784, [2018] EWCA Civ 2344

A. Facts

The Claimant, Unwired Planet International Limited, holds a significant portfolio of patents which are essential for the implementation of the 2G/GSM, 3G/UMTS and 4G/LTE wireless telecommunications standards (Standard Essential Patents, or SEPs). The Defendants, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Huawei Technologies (UK) Co. Ltd., manufacture and sell mobile devices complying with the above standards worldwide.

Starting in September 2013, the Claimant contacted the Defendants several times, requesting the latter to engage in discussions for a licence regarding its SEP portfolio. [290] In March 2014, the Claimant sued the Defendants as well as Samsung and Google for infringement of five of its UK SEPs before the UK High Court of Justice (High Court). [291] The Claimant also initiated parallel infringement proceedings against the Defendants in Germany. [292]

The High Court conducted three technical trials first, focusing on the validity and essentiality of four of the SEPs in suit. [293] By April 2016, these trials were completed; the High Court held that two of the SEPs in suit were both valid and essential, whereas two other patents were found to be invalid. [293] The parties agreed to postpone further technical trials indefinitely. [293]

In July 2016, Samsung took a licence from the Claimant covering, among other, the SEPs in suit. [294] The Claimant also settled the infringement proceedings with Google. [295]

In late 2016, the trial concerned with questions regarding to the licensing of the SEPs in suit commenced between the Claimant and the Defendants. Over the course of these proceedings the parties made licensing offers to the each other. However, they failed to reach an agreement. The Defendants indicated they were willing to take a licence under Claimant’s UK patent portfolio, whereas the Claimant contended that it was entitled to insist upon a worldwide licence. [296]

In April 2017, the High Court granted an UK injunction against the Defendant, until such time as it entered into a worldwide licensing agreement with the Claimant on the specific rates, which the court determined to be Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) [297] in accordance with the undertaking given by the Claimant towards the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). [298] Pending appeal, the High Court stayed the injunction. [299]

Shortly after the High Court delivered its decision, the Defendants began proceedings against the Claimant in China, which are still pending. [300]

With the present judgment, the UK Court of Appeal dismissed the Defendants’ appeal against the decision of the High Court. [301]


B. Court’s reasoning

The Defendants appealed the decision of the High Court on the following three grounds:

1. The High Court’s finding that only a worldwide licence was FRAND is erroneous; the imposition of such a licence on terms set by this court based on a national finding of infringement of UK patents is wrong in principle. [302]

2. The offer imposed to the Defendants by the High Court is discriminatory in violation of Claimant’s FRAND undertaking, since the rates offered are higher than the rates reflected in the licence granted by the Claimant to Samsung. [303]

3. The Claimant is not entitled to injunctive relief; by bringing the infringement proceedings against the Defendants, without meeting the requirements established by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) in the matter Huawei v ZTE [304] (Huawei judgment) before, the Claimant abused its dominant market position in violation of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”). [305]

Notably, the High Court’s determination of the rates which apply to the worldwide licence that the court requested the Defendants to take was not challenged by any of the parties to the proceedings. [306]


1. Worldwide licences

The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Defendants’ notion that imposing a worldwide licence on an implementer is wrong, because it amounts to an (indirect) interference with foreign court proceedings relating to patents subsisting in foreign territories, which would have been subject to materially different approaches to the assessment of FRAND royalty rates and could, therefore, lead to different results (particularly the ongoing litigation between the parties in China and Germany). [307]

The Court of Appeal explained that in imposing a worldwide licence the High Court did neither adjudicate on issues of infringement or validity concerning any foreign SEPs, nor was it deciding what the appropriate relief for infringement of any foreign SEPs might be (particularly since it made clear that a FRAND licence should not prevent a licensee from challenging the validity or essentiality of any foreign SEPs and should make provision for sales in non-patent countries which do not require a licence) [308] . [309]

Moreover, the High Court simply determined the terms of the licence that the Claimant was required to offer to the Defendants pursuant to its FRAND undertaking towards ETSI. [310] Such an undertaking has international effect. [311] It applies to all SEPs of the patent holder irrespective of the territory in which they subsist. [312] This is necessary for two reasons: first, to protect implementers whose equipment may be sold and used in a number of different jurisdictions. [312] Second, to enable SEP holders to prevent implementers from “free-riding” on their innovations and secure an appropriate reward for carrying out their research and development activities and for engaging with the standardisation process. [313]

Accordingly, the High Court had not erred in finding that a worldwide licence was FRAND. On the contrary, there may be circumstances in which only a worldwide licence or at least a multi-territorial licence would be FRAND. [314] German Courts (in Pioneer Acer [315] and St. Lawrence v Vodafone [316] ) as well as the European Commission in its Communication dated 29 November 2017 [317] had also adopted a similar approach. [318]

Having said that, the Court of Appeal recognized that it may be “wholly impractical” for a SEP holder to seek to negotiate a licence for its patents on a country-by-country basis, just as it may be “prohibitively expensive” to seek to enforce its SEPs by litigating in each country in which they subsist. [313] In addition, if in the FRAND context the implementer could only be required to take country-by-country licences, there would be no prospect of any effective injunctive relief being granted to the SEP holder against it: the implementer could avoid an injunction, if it agreed to pay the royalties in respect of its activities in any particular country, once those activities had been found to infringe. [319] In this way, the implementer would have an incentive to hold out country-by-country, until it was compelled to pay. [319]

In its discussion of this topic, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the view taken by the High Court that in every given set of circumstances only one true set of FRAND terms exists. Nevertheless, the court did not consider that the opposite assumption of the High Court had a material effect to the its decision. [320]

In the eyes of the Court of Appeal, it is “unreal” to suggest that two parties, acting fairly and reasonably, will necessarily arrive at precisely the same set of licence terms as two other parties, also acting fairly and reasonably and faced with the same set of circumstances. [321] The reality is that a number of sets of terms may all be fair and reasonable in a given set of circumstances. [321] Whether there is only one true set of FRAND terms or not, is, therefore, more of a “theoretical problem” than a real one. [322] If the parties cannot reach an agreement, then the court (or arbitral tribunal) which will have to determine the licensing terms will normally declare one set of terms as FRAND. The SEP holder would then have to offer that specific set of terms to the implementer. On the other hand, in case that the court finds that two different sets of terms are FRAND, then the SEP holder will satisfy its FRAND undertaking towards ETSI, if it offers either one of them to the implementer. [322]

Furthermore, the Court of Appeal dismissed Defendants’ claim that imposing a worldwide licence is contrary to public policy and disproportionate. [323] In particular, the Defendants argued that this approach encourages over-declaration of patents [324] and is not compatible with the spirit of the Directive 2004/48/EC on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, [325] which requires relief for patent infringement to be proportionate. [326]

Although the Court of Appeal recognised the existence of the practice of over-declaration and acknowledged that it is a problem, it held that this phenomenon cannot justify “condemning” SEP holders with large portfolios to “impossibly expensive” litigation in every territory in respect of which they seek to recover royalties. [327] The court also found that there was nothing disproportionate about the approach taken by the High Court, since the Defendants had the option to avoid an injunction by taking a licence on the terms which the court had determined. [328]


2. Non-discrimination

The Court of Appeal rejected the Defendants’ argument [329] that the non-discrimination component of Claimant’s FRAND undertaking towards ETSI obliges the Claimant to offer to the Defendants the same rates as those contained in the licence granted to Samsung. [330]

The Court of Appeal made clear that the obligation of the SEP holder not to discriminate is, in principle, engaged in the present case, since the Claimant’s transaction with the Defendants is equivalent to the licence it granted to Samsung. [331] In the court’s eyes, when deciding whether two transactions are equivalent one needs to focus first on the transactions themselves. Insofar, differences in the circumstances in which the transactions were entered into, particularly economic circumstances, such as the parties’ financial position [332] or market conditions (e.g. cost of raw materials), cannot make two otherwise identical transactions non-equivalent (releasing, therefore, the patent holder from the obligation not to discriminate). Changes in such circumstances could only amount to an objective justification for a difference in treatment. [333]

Considering the specific content of the SEP holder’s respective obligation, the Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court’s finding that the non-discrimination element of a SEP holder’s FRAND undertaking does not imply a so-called “hard-edged” component (imposing on the patent holder an obligation to offer the same rate to similarly situated implementers). [334] It argued that the “hard-edged” approach is “excessively strict” and fails to achieve a balance between a fair return to the SEP owner and universal access to the technology. [335] It could have the effect of compelling the SEP holder to accept a level of compensation for the use of its invention which does not reflect the value of the licensed technology and, therefore, harm the technological development of standards. [336]

Furthermore, the “hard-edged” discrimination approach should be rejected also because its effects would result in the insertion of the “most favoured licensee” clause in the FRAND undertaking. In the view of the Court of Appeal, the industry would most likely have regarded such a clause as inconsistent with the overall objective of the FRAND undertaking. [337]

Conversely, the Court of Appeal followed the notion described by the High Court as the “general” non-discrimination approach: [338] the FRAND undertaking prevents the SEP holder from securing rates higher than a “benchmark” rate which mirrors a fair valuation of its patent(s), but it does not prevent the patent holder from granting licences at lower rates. [338] For determining the benchmark rate, prior licences granted by the SEP holder to third parties will likely form the “best comparables”. [339]

The Court of Appeal argued that the “general” approach is in line with the objectives of the FRAND undertaking, since it ensures that the SEP holder is not able to “hold-up” implementation of the standard by demanding more than its patent(s) is worth. [340] However, the FRAND undertaking does not aim at leveling down the royalty owed to the SEP holder to a point where it no longer represents a fair return for its patent(s), or to removing its discretion to agree royalty rates lower than the benchmark rate, if it chooses to do so. [340]

In this context, the Court of Appeal made clear that it does not consider differential pricing as per se objectionable, since it can in some circumstances be beneficial to consumer welfare. [341] The court sees no value in mandating equal pricing for its own sake. On the contrary, once the hold-up effect is dealt with by ensuring that licences are available at the benchmark rate, there is no reason for preventing the SEP holder from charging less than the licence is worth. [341] Should discrimination appear below the benchmark rate, it should be addressed through the application of competition law; as long as granting licences at rates lower than the benchmark rate causes no competitive harm, there is no reason to assume that the FRAND undertaking constrains the ability of the SEP holder to do so. [342]


3. Abuse of dominant Position / Huawei v ZTE

The Court of Appeal further rejected Defendants’ argument that, by bringing the infringement proceedings prior to fulfilling the obligations arising from the Huawei judgment, the Claimant abused its dominant market position in violation of Article 102 TFEU. [343]

To begin with, the Court of Appeal confirmed the finding of the High Court that the Claimant held a dominant market position and dismissed the respective challenge by the latter. [344] It did not find any flaw in the High Court’s view that the SEP holder has a 100% market share with respect to each SEP (since it is “common ground” that the relevant market for the purpose of assessing dominance in the case of each SEP is the market for the licensing of that SEP [345] ) and that the constrains imposed upon the SEP holder’s market power by the limitations attached to the FRAND undertaking [346] and the risk of hold-out that is immanent to the structure of the respective market, [347] can either alone or together rebut the assumption that it most likely holds market power. [348]

Notwithstanding the above, the Court of Appeal held that the Claimant had not abused its market power in the present case. [349]

The court agreed with the finding of the High Court that the Huawei judgment did not lay down “mandatory conditions”, in a sense that that non-compliance will per se render the initiation of infringement proceedings a breach of Article 102 TFEU. [350] The language used in the Huawei judgment implies that the CJEU intended to create a “safe harbor”: if the SEP holder complies with the respective framework, the commencement of an action will not, in and of itself, amount to an abuse. [351] If the SEP holder steps outside this framework, the question whether its behaviour has been abusive must be assessed in light of all of the circumstances. [352]

In the court’s eyes, the only mandatory condition that must be satisfied by the SEP holder before proceedings are commenced, is giving notice to the implementer about the infringing use of its patents. [353] This follows from the clear language used by the CJEU with respect to this obligation. [354] The precise content of such notice will depend upon all the circumstances of the particular case. [354] In general, if an alleged infringer is familiar with the technical details of the products it is dealing and the SEP it may be infringing, but has no intention of taking a licence on FRAND terms, it will not be justified to deny the SEP holder an injunction, simply because it had not made a formal notification prior to the commencement of proceedings. [355]

On the merits, the court accepted the High Court’s assessment that the Claimant had not behaved abusively and particularly the finding, that the Defendants, who were in contact with the Claimant prior to the proceedings, had sufficient notice that the Claimant held SEPs which ought to be licensed, if found infringed and essential. [356]

Considering further that the respective conduct requirements were not established at the point in time, in which the infringement action was filed (since the present proceedings were initiated before the CJEU delivered the Huawei judgment), the Court of Appeal noted that it would very likely not be fair to accuse the Claimant of abusive behavior. [357] Insofar the court agreed with the respective approach developed by German courts in co-called “transitional” cases (Pioneer v Acer, [358] St. Lawrence v Vodafone [358] and Sisvel v Haier [359] ) [360] .

  • [290] Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK Court of Appeal, 23 October 2018, Case-No. A3/2017/1784, [2018] EWCA Civ 2344, para. 233.
  • [291] Ibid, para. 6 et seqq.
  • [292] Ibid, para. 233.
  • [293] Ibid, para. 7.
  • [294] Ibid, paras. 8 and 137 et seqq.
  • [295] Ibid, para. 8.
  • [296] Ibid, para. 9 et seqq.; para. 31 et seqq.
  • [297] Ibid, para 17.
  • [298] Ibid, para 130.
  • [299] Ibid, para 18.
  • [300] Ibid, para 112.
  • [301] Ibid, para 291.
  • [302] Ibid, paras. 19 and 45 et seqq.
  • [303] Ibid, paras. 20 and 132 et seqq.
  • [304] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgement dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13.
  • [305] Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK Court of Appeal, 23 October 2018, para. 21, paras. 211 et seqq and para. 251.
  • [306] Ibid, para. 17.
  • [307] Ibid, paras. 74 and 77 et seq.
  • [308] Ibid, para. 82.
  • [309] Ibid, para. 80.
  • [310] Ibid, para. 79 et seq.
  • [311] Ibid, para. 26.
  • [312] Ibid, para. 53.
  • [313] Ibid, para. 54 et seq., para. 59.
  • [314] Ibid, para. 56.
  • [315] Pioneer v Acer, District Court of Mannheim, judgement dated 8 January 2016, Case No. 7 O 96/14.
  • [316] St. Lawrence v Vodafone, District Court of Düsseldorf, judgement dated 31 March 2016, Case No. 4a O 73/14.
  • [317] Communication From the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee, “Setting out the EU Approach to Standard Essential Patents”, 29 November 2017, COM(2017) 712 final.
  • [318] Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK Court of Appeal, 23 October 2018, para. 74.
  • [319] Ibid, para. 111.
  • [320] Ibid, para. 128.
  • [321] Ibid, para. 121.
  • [322] Ibid, para. 125.
  • [323] Ibid, para. 75.
  • [324] Ibid, para. 92
  • [325] Directive 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights (Official Journal of the EU L 195, 02/06/2004, p. 16)
  • [326] Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK Court of Appeal, 23 October 2018, para. 94.
  • [327] Ibid, para. 96.
  • [328] Ibid, para. 98.
  • [329] Ibid, para. 20 and 132 et seqq.
  • [330] Ibid, paras. 207 and 210.
  • [331] Ibid, para. 176.
  • [332] Ibid, para. 173.
  • [333] Ibid, para. 169 et seq.
  • [334] Ibid, paras. 194 et seqq.
  • [335] Ibid, para. 198.
  • [336] Ibid, para. 198.
  • [337] Ibid, para. 199.
  • [338] Ibid, para. 195.
  • [339] Ibid, para. 202.
  • [340] Ibid, para. 196.
  • [341] Ibid, para. 197.
  • [342] Ibid, para. 200.
  • [343] Ibid, para. 21, paras. 211 et seqq and para. 251.
  • [344] Ibid, para. 212.
  • [345] Ibid, para. 216.
  • [346] Ibid, para. 219.
  • [347] Ibid, para. 220.
  • [348] Ibid, para. 229.
  • [349] Ibid, para. 284.
  • [350] Ibid, para. 269.
  • [351] Ibid, para. 270.
  • [352] Ibid, para. 269 and 282.
  • [353] Ibid, para. 253 and 281.
  • [354] Ibid, para. 271.
  • [355] Ibid, para. 273.
  • [356] Ibid, para. 284
  • [357] Ibid, para. 275
  • [358] See above
  • [359] Sisvel v Haier, Higher District Court of Düsseldorf, judgement dated 30 March 2017, Case No. 15 U 66-15.
  • [360] Unwired Planet v Huawei, UK Court of Appeal, 23 October 2018, para. 279.

Updated 2 August 2019

Tagivan (MPEG-LA) v Huawei, District Court (Landgericht) of Düsseldorf

OLG Düsseldorf
15 November 2018 - Case No. 4a O 17/15

A. Facts

The Claimant, Tagivan II LLC, holds a patent essential to the practice of the AVC/H.264 standard concerning the compression of video data (Standard Essential Patent, or SEP). The patent in question is subject to a FRAND commitment (FRAND stands for Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory terms and conditions) made towards the relevant standardisation body. It was included into a patent pool administered by MPEG LA LLC (MPEG LA), comprising more the 5,000 patents referring to the AVC/H.264 standard (MPEG LA pool) [1] .

The Defendant, a German subsidiary of a Chinese group of companies, sells – among other things – mobile phones in Germany that practise the AVC/H.264 standard [2] .

MPEG LA uses a standard licensing agreement, which is publicly available at its website [3] . Since 2004, MPEG-LA has signed approx. 2,000 agreements with implementers [4] , 1,400 of which are still in force [3] .

In 2009, MPEG LA and the Defendant’s parent company (parent company) started discussions about a potential licence covering other standards, especially the MPEG-2 standard. On 6 September 2011, MPEG LA informed the parent company about the possibility to obtain a licence also regarding the AVC/H.264 standard, by sending PDF-copies of its standard licensing agreement to the parent company via email [5] . On 15 September 2011, the parent company suggested to arrange a call on this issue [6] . In February 2012, MPEG LA sent the pool’s standard licensing agreement for the AVC/H.264 standard to the parent company also by mail [7] .

In November 2013, the discussions between MPEG LA and the parent company ended without success [8] . The parties resumed negotiations in July 2016; again, no agreement was reached [8] .

The Claimant then brought an action against the Defendant before the District Court of Düsseldorf in Germany (Court), requesting for injunctive relief, information and rendering of accounts, the destruction and the recall of infringing products as well as for a declaratory judgement confirming Defendant’s liability for damages on the merits [9] .

In November 2017, during the course of the present proceedings, the Defendant made a counteroffer to the Claimant for a licence, which – in contrast to MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement – was limited to the Claimant’s patent portfolio and established different royalty rates for different regions, in which the Defendant sold products [10] .

In March and September 2018 (again during the proceedings), the Defendant provided bank guarantees to the Claimant covering past and future sales of (allegedly) infringing products. The security amounts were calculated based on the Defendant’s counteroffer dated November 2017 [11] . Furthermore, the Defendant made a second counteroffer to the Claimant shortly after the last oral hearing before the Court [12] .

With the present judgment, the Court granted Claimant’s requests.

B. Court’s reasoning

The Court found that the patent in suit was valid [13] , standard essential [14] and infringed by the products sold by the Defendant in Germany [15] . Furthermore, the Court held that by filing the present suit the Claimant did not abuse its dominant market position in violation of Article 102 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), since it had fully complied with the conduct obligations stipulated by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in the matter Huawei v ZTE [16] (Huawei obligations or framework) with respect to dominant undertakings [17] .

Dominant market position

The Court found that the Claimant holds a dominant market position in terms of Article 102 TFEU [18] .

The Court defined the relevant market for the assessment of dominance as the market, in which licences for any given patent are offered [19] . A dominant market position can further also exist, when the patent holder can hinder competition in downstream markets for standard-compliant products and services [19] .

The Court made clear that ownership of a SEP does not per se establish market dominance [20] . A dominant market position is given, when the use of the SEP is required for entering the market [21] . The same is true, if the patent user could not market competitive products or services, without access to the respective SEP [22] .

Based on these considerations, the Court saw no ‘reasonable’ doubt that the Claimant was a dominant undertaking: It was undisputed that almost all mobile phones available worldwide use the AVC/H.264 standard and that no ‘realistic’ alternative to the MPEG LA pool existed in the licensing market for patents essential to this standard [23] .

Huawei framework

The Court found, however, that the Claimant did not abuse its dominant position by suing the Defendant in the present case, since its conduct was in line with the Huawei framework [24] . The Huawei framework establishes mutual conduct obligations for both SEP holders and SEP users, which need to be fulfilled step by step and one after another (meaning that each party’s obligation to act arises only after the other party has fulfilled its own obligation) [25] . Subject to the Huawei framework is not only the patent holder’s claim for injunctive relief, but also the claim for the destruction of infringing products [26] .

In this context, the Court pointed out that the Huawei framework applies, irrespective of whether a ‘well-established’ licensing practice concerning the asserted patents already existed before the CJEU delivered the Huawei judgment, or not [27] . The Claimant had argued that, in the present case, the Court should apply the (German) legal standard that preceded the Huawei framework (which was based on the so-called ‘Orange-Book-Standard’ ruling of the Federal Supreme Court [28] ), since with respect to the SEP in suit a ‘routine’ practice already existed prior to the Huawei judgement. The Court explained that the Huawei judgment does not contain either an explicit or an implicit limitation of its scope of application [29] . Furthermore, even if a ‘well-established’ licensing practice existed, the need to apply the Huawei framework will still be given, in order to bridge the, nevertheless, existing information gap between patent holder and implementer concerning the (potential) infringement of SEPs [30] . Finally, it would be very challenging for courts to distinguish whether a ‘well-established’ licensing practice excluding the application of the Huawei framework is at hand, or not [30] . Notwithstanding the above, according to the Court, the actual licensing practice of the patent holder could be of ‘particular significance’ when assessing the compliance of the latter with the Huawei obligations: Such practice could, for instance, serve as an indicator of the appropriateness of SEP holder’s licensing offer to the implementer [31] .

Having said that, the Court found no flaws in Claimant’s conduct. In the Court’s view, the Claimant had met its Huawei obligation to notify the Defendant about the infringement of its patent as well as the obligation to present the Defendant with a written FRAND licensing offer covering also the patent in suit. The Defendant, on the other hand, adequately expressed its willingness to enter into a licence, failed, however, to make a FRAND counteroffer to the Claimant. Since an adequate counteroffer was missing, the Court did not take up the question whether the bank guarantees provided by the Defendant constitute an adequate security in terms of the Huawei framework.

Notification of infringement

The Court ruled that the Claimant had adequately notified the Defendant about the infringement of the SEP in suit through the email sent by MPEG LA to the parent company on 6 September 2011 [32] .

The fact that this email was not addressed to the Defendant, but to the parent company, did not raise any concerns as to the compatibility of the notification with the Huawei framework. The Court explained that a notification of infringement addressed only to the parent company of a group of companies is sufficient, as far as it can be assumed that the notification will be forwarded to the subsidiaries concerned [33] . The sole fact that a company belongs to a group justifies such an assumption, unless indications to the contrary exist [34] . This was, however, not the case here.

Besides that, the Court did not consider it inappropriate that the aforementioned e-mail was not sent to the parent company by the Claimant, but by MPEG LA (which is not the holder of the SEP in suit) [35] . The Court held that MPEG LA is entitled to perform legal actions in connection with the licensing of the MPEG LA pool on behalf of the Claimant. The Defendant could not contest that this was not the case, since MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement, which it is aware of, contains an indication about MPEG LA’s respective capacity [36] . In addition, the Defendant’s parent company was most likely aware of MPEG LA’s capacity to act on behalf of the Claimant, since it had entered into direct negotiation with MPEG LA already in 2009, that is almost two years prior to the notification of infringement [37] .

The Court further ruled that, in terms of content, a notification of infringement must – at least – name the infringed patent (including the patent number) and indicate the contested embodiments as well as the (allegedly) infringing acts of use [38] . A detailed (technical and/or legal) explanation of the infringement is not required; the implementer needs just to be put in the position to assess the infringement allegations, if necessary, by seeking expert advice [38] . A notification of infringement is, therefore, not necessary, when it constitutes just a ‘pointless formality’ [38] . This is true, when according to the overall circumstances of the case, one can safely assume that the implementer is aware of the infringement, so that claiming that the SEP holder failed to provide adequate notification prior to the initiation of court proceedings would appear to be abusive [38] . The respective test is, however, subject to strict conditions [38] .

Based on the above considerations, the Court found that MPEG LA’s email to the parent company dated 6 September 2011 should be considered – as an exception – to constitute a sufficient notification of infringement, although it did not contain the minimum information required (particularly the patent number and a reference to the specific infringing embodiments) [39] . The overall circumstances of the case (especially the fact that the parent company had been in negotiations with MPEG LA already since 2009 and, therefore, should have been aware that MPEG LA has granted licences for the AVC/H.264 standard to the implementers mentioned at its website), give rise to the assumption that the parent company had been conscious of the fact that AVC/H.264-compliant products need to be licensed [40] .

Willingness to obtain a licence

The Court held that the parent company had adequately expressed its willingness to obtain a FRAND-licence through the email sent to MPEG LA on 15 September 2011 [41] .

In the eyes of the Court, this email indicates the parent company’s intention to deal with issues concerning the licensing of patents referring to the AVC/H.264 standard, especially if it is seen in the context of the negotiations between MPEG LA and the parent company that had commenced in 2009 [41] . This is sufficient under the Huawei framework: A general, informal statement suffices [42] . The implementer is not required to refer to a specific licensing agreement (on the contrary, this could be considered harmful under certain circumstances) [42] .

SEP holder’s offer

The Court further found that the standard licensing agreement sent by MPEG LA to the parent company in February 2012 presents an offer accountable to the Claimant which is in line with the Huawei framework in terms of both form and content [43] .

The fact that the standard licensing agreement was not tailored to the parent company but was designed for use towards a large number of (potential) licensees (the name of the licensee ought to be added in each case separately), was not criticized by the Court. MPEG-LA had made clear that the documents sent by mail in February 2012 would serve as the basis for negotiations and a future agreement with the parent company [44] .

In addition, the Court did not take an issue with the fact that the offer was addressed to the parent company and not to the Defendant, since the parties were discussing about a licensing agreement on group level and the parent company had been involved in the communications from the beginning [45] .

The Court further ruled that the Huawei requirement, according to which the SEP holder’s licensing offer must specify the royalty calculation, was met, although the draft standard licensing agreement sent to the parent company did not contain a detailed explanation of the way the royalties were calculated [46] . The Court found that, in the present case, it was sufficient that the parent company was aware that the (standard) agreement presented to her had been accepted in the market by a great number of licensees [47] . In the Court’s view, the explanation of the royalty calculation does not require a ‘strict mathematical derivation’ of the royalty; moreover, it will, as a rule, suffice to demonstrate that the (standard) royalty rates offered have been accepted in the market by presenting existing licensing agreements with third parties (comparable agreements) [48] . If a sufficient number of comparable licences is presented, then the SEP holder will usually not be required to provide further information regarding the appropriateness of its licensing offer [48] . It will need, however, to provide information on all essential comparable agreements, in order to rule out the risk that only agreements supporting the offered royalty level are presented [48] . In this context, the Court noted that it cannot be required from the SEP holder to present all comparable agreements along with the licensing offer to the implementer; a respective industry practice does not exist [49] .

Apart from the above, the Court held that the standard licensing agreement offered to the parent company was FRAND also in terms of content [50] .

According to the Court, a licensing offer cannot be considered as fair and reasonable, if the patent holder requests royalties that go significantly beyond the (hypothetical) price that would have been formed in an effectively competitive market, unless there is a commercial justification for the royalty level requested [51] . Particularly in connection with the licensing of SEPs, an offer can lie outside the FRAND-scope, if the cumulative royalty burden imposed on the implementer would not be tenable in commercial terms [51] . The Court made clear that, in this context, no exact mathematical derivation of a FRAND-conform royalty rate is required; moreover, an approximate value is to be determined based on assessments and estimations [51] . In this respect, comparable agreements can serve as an ‘important indicator’ of the fair and reasonable character of the offered royalty rates [51] .

Non-discrimination

Regarding to the non-discriminatory element of FRAND, the Court pointed out that it applied only to similar situated cases [52] . Even then, an unequal treatment is allowed, as long as it is objectively justified [52] . Limitations may, nevertheless, occur, especially when the implementation of the patent is necessary for entering a downstream market or when a product becomes competitive, only when it uses the patent’s teachings [52] . As a rule, the burden of proof with respect to the discriminatory character of a licensing offer rests on the implementer. Since the latter will usually not be aware of the existence or the content of comparable agreements of the patent holder, it may, however, seem appropriate to request the patent holder to provide the implementer with respective details, as far as this is reasonable [53] . The information to be shared should cover all existing licensees and include which (concretely designated) company with which importance in the relevant market has obtained a licence on which conditions [53] .

Against this background, the Court found that the offer made by MPEG LA to the parent company was not discriminatory. The Defendant had argued that seeking a licence also covering sales in China violated FRAND, since not every other competitor in the Chinese market was licensed by MPEG LA [54] . The Court observed that the selective assertion of patents against only a part of the competitors in a downstream market might, in principle, be discriminatory [55] . This was, however, not the case here, because the Claimant had already sued another company active in China and was attempting to persuade other companies to obtain a licence [56] . Due to the high cost risk associated with court proceedings, the patent holder is not obliged to sue all potential infringers at once; choosing to assert its patents against larger implementers first was considered by the Court as reasonable, since a win over a large market player could motivate smaller competitors to also obtain a licence (without litigation) [57] .

Furthermore, the Court did not consider the fact that the offered standard licensing agreement contained a cap for the annual licensing fees payable to the MPEG LA pool to be discriminatory [58] . The Defendant had argued that the respective cap disproportionally favoured licensees with high volume sales which offered not only mobile phones, but also other standard compliant products in the market. The Court made, however, clear that Art. 102 TFEU does not establish a ‘most-favoured-licensee’ principle (meaning that the patent holder must offer the same conditions to all licensees) [59] . It is not per se discriminatory to use sale volumes as a criterion for discounts, especially if a company has managed to open up a larger market than its competitors [60] . Discounts can further hardly be discriminatory, if they are offered to every (potential) licensee under the same conditions [60] .

Besides that, the Court dismissed the Defendant’s argument that MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement is discriminatory, because it is offered to both MPEG LA pool members and third licensees. The Court found that the share of the licensing income paid to pool members, who have also signed a MPEG LA licence, reflects their contribution to the pool and, therefore, does not discriminate the latter against third licensees (who have not contributed any patents to the pool) [61] . In this context, the Court also pointed out that the clauses contained in MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement, providing for deductions or instalment payments are not discriminatory, particularly because they are offered to all licensees [62] .

The Court was further not convinced that the parent company was discriminated by MPEG LA’s offer, because the MPEG LA pool had refrained from requesting a licence at group level from a competitor, but had only granted a licence to a subsidiary within the respective group, instead. In the Court’s eyes, the Claimant had managed to establish that this exception was objectively justified, since only the subsidiary granted a licence had activities concerning the patents included in the pool [63] .

Fair and reasonable terms

With respect to the assessment of whether MPEG LA’s offer to the parent company was also fair and reasonable, the Court placed particular emphasis on the existing licensing agreements between the MPEG-LA pool and third licensees. The Court took the view, that existing licences can establish the actual presumption that the terms offered (as well as the scope of the licence) are fair and reasonable [64] . Moreover, the fact that licences regarding the same patent portfolio have already been granted for similar products prima facie suggests that the selection of the patents included in the pool was adequate [64] .

Based on these premises, the Court found that the approx. 2,000 standard licensing agreements concluded by the MPEG LA pool provide a ‘strong indication’ (‘erhebliche Indizwirkung’) that the underlying licensing terms are fair and reasonable [65] . In the Court’s view, the Defendant had failed to show sufficient facts that could rebut this indication.

In particular, the Court did not accept Defendant’s claim that, as a rule, licences for products sold in the Chinese market are subject to special conditions. On the contrary, the Court found that the existing MPEG LA pool licences allow the assumption that setting worldwide uniform licence fees corresponds to industry practice [66] . Accordingly, the Court rejected Defendant’s argument, that the royalties offered by MPEG LA to the parent company would hinder the Defendant from making profits with its sales in China, since the overall licensing burden (including licences needed from third parties) would be too high. The Court noted that the price level for Defendant’s sales in China does not significantly differ from the price level in other regions [67] . What is more, the Defendant did not show that further licences are needed with respect to the AVC/H.264 standard [68] . The Court further did not recognise a need to apply special conditions for the Chinese market, because – compared to patents from other regions – a lower number of Chinese patents is contained in the MPEG LA pool. According to the Court, the number of patents in a specific market should not be ‘overestimated’ as a factor for assessing the FRAND conformity of an offer, since even a single patent can block an implementer from a market, generating, therefore, the need for obtaining a licence [69] .

Apart from the above, the Court did not criticise that MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement did not contain an adjustment clause. Such clauses can secure that the agreed licensing fees remain reasonable, in case that the number of patents contained in the pool changes during the term of the licensing agreement. They are, however, in the Court’s view, not the only mean to reach this goal: Moreover, the clause contained in MPEG LA’s standard licensing agreement, according to which the agreed royalties will not be adjusted either when more patents are added to the pool or when patents are withdrawn from the pool, offers an adequate balance of risk and is, therefore, FRAND compliant [70] . This assumption is also confirmed by the fact that all existing licensees have accepted this clause [71] .

In addition, the Court made clear that pool licences, as the one offered to the parent company, are, in general, appropriate under the Huawei framework. An offer for a pool licence cannot per se be seen as abusive (Article 101 TFEU) [72] . On the contrary, such licences usually serve the interest of potential licensees to be granted access to the whole standard on uniform conditions under one roof, without having to seek a licence from every single patent holder separately [72] .

An offer for a pool licence can, nevertheless, violate FRAND in ‘special circumstances’ [73] , for instance, if not all patents included in the pool are used by the licensee [74] . According to the Court, the fact that the Defendant – as well as mobile phone manufacturers in general – usually use only one of four available profiles of the AVC-Standard does not, however, render the standard licensing agreement offered by MPEG LA unreasonable [75] . This is particularly the case, since Defendant’s products – and especially its latest smartphones – have the technical capability to implement more than one available profile [76] . Besides that, it is reasonable to offer one single licence covering all profiles, since modern products incorporate functionalities of several types of devices (e.g. smartphones offer also digital television functionalities) [76] .

In this context, the Court dismissed Defendant’s arguments that the licence offered by MPEG LA was not FRAND, because it allegedly covered both standard-essential and non-essential patents. The Court recognised that the ‘bundling’ of essential and non-essential patents in a patent pool could, in principle, be incompatible with FRAND, if it is done with the intention to extract higher royalties from licensees by increasing the number of patents contained in the pool [77] . The Defendant failed, however, to present any reliable evidence that this was the case with the MPEG-LA pool [78] .

In the Court’s eyes, the Defendant also failed to establish that the rates offered by MPEG LA would lead to an unreasonably high total burden of licensing costs (‘royalty stacking’) [79] . The theoretical possibility that the Defendant might need to obtain licences also for patents not included in a pool does not per se lead to royalty stacking; the Defendant would have been obliged to establish that the total amount of royalties actually paid does not allow to extract any margin from the sale of its products [80] .

The Court further pointed out that MPEG-LA’s offer did not violate FRAND principles, because it referred to a licence covering all companies within the group, to which the Defendant belonged [81] . In the electronics and mobile communications industries, licences on a group level are in line with the industry practice and, therefore, FRAND-compliant [82] .

Implementer’s counteroffer

Having said that, the Court found that the Defendant failed to make a FRAND counteroffer [83] .

In particular, the counteroffer made in November 2017 after the commencement of the present proceedings violated the FRAND principles in terms of content, because it was limited to a licence covering solely the Claimant’s patent portfolio and not all patents included in the MPEG LA pool [84] . Furthermore, the counteroffer established different licensing rates for different regions (especially for China) without factual justification [85] .

Furthermore, the second counteroffer made by the Defendant after the end of the last oral hearing was belated and, therefore, not FRAND. The Court held that the Claimant was not given sufficient time to respond to that counteroffer, so that there was no need for any further assessment of its content [12] . On the contrary, the Court expressed the view that the purpose of this counteroffer was most likely to delay the infringement proceedings [12] .

Provision of security

Since Defendant’s counter-offers were not FRAND in terms of content, the Court did not have to decide, whether the security provided in form of bank guarantees was FRAND or not. The Court noted, however, that the amounts provided were insufficient, since they were calculated on basis of Defendant’s counteroffer from November 2017, which itself failed to meet the FRAND requirements [86] .

  • [1] Tagivan (MPEG-LA) v Huawei, District Court of Düsseldorf, 9 November 2018, para. 36.
  • [2] Ibid, para. 35.
  • [3] Ibid, para. 37.
  • [4] Ibid, para. 453.
  • [5] Ibid, para. 39.
  • [6] Ibid, para. 43.
  • [7] Ibid, para. 44.
  • [8] Ibid, para. 53.
  • [9] Ibid, para. 2.
  • [10] Ibid, para. 54.
  • [11] Ibid, para. 65.
  • [12] Ibid, para. 716.
  • [13] Ibid, paras. 143-208.
  • [14] Ibid, paras. 209-293.
  • [15] Ibid, paras. 295-302.
  • [16] Huawei v ZTE, Court of Justice of the European Union, judgment dated 16 July 2015, Case No. C-170/13.
  • [17] Tagivan (MPEG-LA) v Huawei, District Court of Düsseldorf, 9 November 2018, paras. 304 et seqq.
  • [18] Ibid, para. 307.
  • [19] Ibid, para. 310.
  • [20] Ibid, para. 310. In this respect, the Court pointed out that – vice versa – also a non-essential patent might confer a dominant position, if the patented invention is superior in terms of technological merit and/or economical value, para. 312.
  • [21] Ibid, paras. 310 et seq.
  • [22] Ibid, para. 311.
  • [23] Ibid, paras. 315 et seqq.
  • [24] Ibid, para. 321.
  • [25] Ibid, para. 326.
  • [26] Ibid, para. 327.
  • [27] Ibid, para. 330.
  • [28] Under the ‘Orange-Book-Standard’ regime, in order to avoid an injunction, the implementer was required to make a licensing offer to the patent holder, which the latter could not refuse without acting in an anticompetitive manner; see Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof), judgment dated 6 May 2009, Case No. KZR 39/06.
  • [29] Ibid, paras. 331 et seqq.
  • [30] Ibid, para. 335.
  • [31] Ibid, para. 337.
  • [32] Ibid, para. 339.
  • [33] Ibid, para. 343.
  • [34] Ibid, para. 345.
  • [35] Ibid, para. 356.
  • [36] Ibid, paras. 357 et seqq.
  • [37] Ibid, paras. 366 et seqq.
  • [38] Ibid, para. 340.
  • [39] Ibid, para. 341.
  • [40] Ibid, paras. 395 et seqq.
  • [41] Ibid, paras. 400 et seqq.
  • [42] Ibid, para. 399.
  • [43] Ibid, para. 405.
  • [44] Ibid, paras. 411-417.
  • [45] Ibid, para. 419.
  • [46] Ibid, para. 421.
  • [47] Ibid, para. 425.
  • [48] Ibid, para. 422.
  • [49] Ibid, paras. 426 et seqq.
  • [50] Ibid, para. 429.
  • [51] Ibid, para. 431.
  • [52] Ibid, para. 432.
  • [53] Ibid, para. 433.
  • [54] Ibid, para. 438.
  • [55] Ibid, para. 443.
  • [56] Ibid, para. 444.
  • [57] Ibid, para. 445.
  • [58] Ibid, para. 579.
  • [59] Ibid, para. 582.
  • [60] Ibid, paras. 583 et seqq.
  • [61] Ibid, para. 564.
  • [62] Ibid, paras. 568 et seqq.
  • [63] Ibid, paras. 573 et seqq.
  • [64] Ibid, para. 451.
  • [65] Ibid, para. 449.
  • [66] Ibid, para. 454.
  • [67] Ibid, paras. 487 et seqq.
  • [68] Ibid, para. 491.
  • [69] Ibid, para. 495.
  • [70] Ibid, paras. 591 et seqq., particularly para. 596.
  • [71] Ibid. para. 597.
  • [72] Ibid. para. 504.
  • [73] Ibid. para. 508.
  • [74] Ibid. para. 514.
  • [75] Ibid. paras. 511 et seqq.
  • [76] Ibid. para. 524.
  • [77] Ibid, para. 528.
  • [78] Ibid, paras. 531-543.
  • [79] Ibid, paras. 545 et seqq.
  • [80] Ibid, para. 546.
  • [81] Ibid, para. 599.
  • [82] Ibid, para. 600.
  • [83] Ibid, para. 603.
  • [84] Ibid, paras. 605 et seqq.
  • [85] Ibid, paras. 617 et seqq.
  • [86] Ibid, para. 625.