GPNE vs Apple: The Multi-Year Saga

Hawaii-based NPE, GPNE Corp.,  has  requested damages in a patent law suit related to GPRS standards of 900 million RMB in Shenzhen (about 129 million USD) against Apple as well as other related parties (Foxconn et al),  according to various news reports.  This is a significant increase over original damages request of 95 million and 1 million RMB, respectively.  The request was made in a hearing before the Shenzhen Intermediate Court in November 2016.

The case appears to have been filed as early as January 28, 2013.   Apple had reportedly previously filed three invalidations in China against the GPNE patents.  The high damages request has been noted by the media as the largest damage claim in Chinese IP history to date.  Apple had also successfully won a federal circuit appeal involving GPNE’s claims of infringement in August 2016.

The Apple/GPNE case is one of several global IP disputes, which include China as an important venue, and where damages, discovery, availability of injunctions, an increasingly hospitable Chinese legal environment to global patent litigation and likelihood of success all appear to be playing important roles.  The increase in damages may a reaction in part to Apple seeking to use evidence obtained in its successful defense against a GPNE law suit in California in the Shenzhen case.  In 2014, Apple argued that due to lack of discovery in China and differing methods of calculating damages, Apple requires discovery of GPNE’s licensing practices from the US court, pursuant to 28 USC Sec. 1782.  Apple noted in its motion that “the limited discovery sought by Apple is important to the China litigation, and will allow Apple to present the probative evidence regarding the value of GPNE’s patents and its history of granting licenses.” Apple substantiated its motion by pointing to the limitations on Chinese damage calculations and on limited discovery as supporting the relevance of its request:

GPNE also introduced evidence intended to support an “illegal gains” damages model. Under Chinese law, a claim for “illegal gains” may be chosen by the patentee if a claim for “lost profits” is difficult to determine. Although Chinese courts typically start the damages analysis with plaintiff’s chosen damages model, Chinese law allows for different damages models, and GPNE may be constrained in the damages it can seek by its licensing practices.

However, under Chinese law, there is no discovery process in civil litigation proceedings similar to that in the United States. Accordingly, GPNE may not be subject to any legal liability if it refuses to submit the relevant license agreements to the Shenzhen Court. Id. To the extent Apple intends to argue to the Shenzhen Court that GPNE’s licensing practices should inform any damages model, it will be necessary for Apple to produce GPNE’s licenses to the court. After the parties have provided the necessary evidence, Apple expects that the Shenzhen Court will weigh the evidentiary submissions and arguments and, should the court find Apple liable, may make a damages determination.

This case is also one of several IP law suits that have been filed in China against Apple over the years, including design patent, invention patent and trademark litigation, Apple has also been filing more patents in China, ranking number seven in utility model patents in 2014 amongst all foreign companies. Although an earlier report I posted on is no longer available on the SIPO website, earlier data showed that Apple had been increasing its invention patent applications in China,

GPNE’s website notes that it holds “more than 30 patents worldwide in the field of wireless and wired data communications”  and that it has entered into various forms of licensing agreements with Microsoft, Huawei, Sony and others.   The Company’s name is an abbreviation of  the four founders of the company, G – Gabriel Wong, P – Po-Sing Tsui, N – and E – Edwin Wong, but also possibly standing for “Garage Pioneer of New Electronics” as noted on its website.

The above are my personal opinions only.  Please post any factual corrections, or any differences of opinion that you may have. Please consult counsel for any legal guidance on matters discussed in this blog.

Beijing IP Court Awards 50,000,000 RMB in Patent Damages

Continuing the trends in higher damage awards that rely less on statutory damages and more on actual damages, the Beijing IP Court on December 8 awarded damages of 50,000,000 RMB in favor of the holder of a “USB Key” patent  According to deputy chief judge Chen Jingchuan 陈景, this is the highest damage award of the court to date.  The damages included 49 million RMB in civil compensation plus 1 million RMB in legal fees. The case is Watchdata vs Hengbao (北京握奇数据系统有限公司 vs 恒宝股份有限公司), two Chinese domestic companies, for patent number ZL200510105502.1.  The plaintiff is a Beijing-based company involved in digital authentication and transaction security.

The patent in suit relates to USBkeys distributed by banks to customers for security. The court found infringement of both its product claims on a USBkey itself and its method claims for authentication when users perform an online money transfer.  The damages were based on a calculation of defendant’s sales and profit for patented products.  In addition, when three of the fifteen  infringing banks and the defendant refused to provide evidence of their sales, the court used evidence provided by the plaintiff. The basis for the court’s reliance on this evidence was  a judicial interpretation on refusals to supply evidence (My guess: 《最高人民法院关于民事诉讼证据的若干规定》 (20011221) article75 第七十五条 有证据证明一方当事人持有证据无正当理由桓不提供,如果对方当事人主张该证据的内容不利于证据持有人,可以推定该主张成立。)

Commentators have also noted that this may be the first time that the court has awarded legal fees to a prevailing party based on the time spent on the matter, which is also positive news for prevailing parties in Chinese commercial litigation.  

Update January 24, 2017: Here’s another useful blog from the comparative patent remedies blog from Yijun Ge, a student of both Prof. Cotter and Fordham.  This blog goes into greater detail on the methodology for calculating damages.

SEP Litigation and Licensing in China: Are There New Voices in the Room?

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A string of recent events suggest that there is increasing confidence by the foreign community in China’s antitrust and licensing regime and that some of the aggressive posturing in the past by the Chinese government on the ”hegemony” of foreign ownership of SEP’s  countries, or (more recently) the abuse of dominance of foreign SEP owners (in cases like Huawei vs Interdigital and NDRC v Qualcomm), is shifting to a more balanced view.  Hopefully, policy developments in this new phase will also facilitate China’s efforts to become a global innovator and technology exporter.

One of the more hopeful signs of faith in the Chinese legal system was Qualcomm’s filings against Meizu, Since its initial court filings in China, Qualcomm has filed 17 complaints against Meizu.  In addition, Qualcomm announced in October 2016 that it launched a 337 action against Meizu in the United States, and is pursuing litigation in Germany and France.

In another sign of confidence Canadian NPE, Wireless Future Technologies Inc, a subsidiary of Canadian PIPCO WiLAN, filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Sony in the Intermediate People’s Court of Nanjing.  The choice of the Nanjing court, rather than one of the specialized IP courts has been a source of some speculation, with the media suggesting any of three factors: faster litigation times, local contacts and even, perhaps, anti-Japanese sentiment.   Two other reasons: Jiangsu’s efforts to use actual or implied royalties to assess damages, rather than the low statutory damages that applied in the vast majority of cases in China. Damages in a “model case”  for patent infringement in 2014 using a royalty based calculation that was first adjudicated by the Nanjing Intermediate Court, were 3,000,000 RMB, relatively high by Chinese standards.   See 江苏固丰管桩集团有限公司 vs宿迁华顺建筑预制构件有限公司, 南京中院(2014)宁知民初字第00108号 , 江苏高院(2015)苏知民终字第00038号.  Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, Sony’s phones are made by Arima in Wujiang, Jiangsu Province.

The Financial Times has written on the Arima case, noting that “A new corporate era beckons in which a Chinese judge could conceivably cut off the lifeblood of some of the world’s most valuable companies. It was not so long ago that China’s legal system just did not factor into the risk calculus of most global companies.” 

Chinese companies are also showing confidence overseas by bringing cases brought against foreign competition. Earlier this year, Huawei brought SEP-related litigation in the United States against Samsung in both the United States and China, and against T-Mobile in the Eastern District of Texas.

China’s growing SEP portfolio may be contributing to this change in perspective.  As Dina Kallay of Ericcson noted at the recent Fordham Antitrust conference: “Of the ten largest contributors of technology to cellular standards — and we like to measure it by accepted technical contributions, so it’s not just measured by the number of patents, which arguably you can play with — but by how many of your technical contributions were accepted into the standard, …Three … are Chinese — Huawei, ZTE, and CATT (Datang).  No other nation has as many companies in the Top Ten list.”  Considering China’s increasing investments in the United States and its rapidly improving patent portfolios, might a Chinese company soon be a complainant in a Section 337 litigation?

By the way, Huawei’s website impressively identifies their contributions to IP in standards as follows;

  Huawei has filed over 57,800 patent applications in China, U.S., Japan, European Union, South Korea, and Brazil, as well as other countries and districts, of which approximately 15000 are in the area of wireless communications.

  Huawei has 2,137 essential patents in the area of wireless communications…

In the area of wireless communications, Huawei has submitted approximately 20,009 proposals to international standard organizations … 40% of which have been adopted.

Huawei’s extensive experience in standards setting and its own investments in IP have likely contributed to its  opposition to some of the mandatory disclosure / mandatory licensing  standards-related aspects of  the proposed revisions to China’s patent law (eg., Article 85). Interestingly, Huawei objected to this provision due to the the complexity of international regulation of standards setting organizations, and because it alleged that foreigners do not participate in the development of Chinese domestic standards; therefore this provision might primarily be applied by Chinese against Chinese.  Nonetheless, its rejection would be a positive step by avoiding an unfortunate precedent for SIPO and reducing overregulation of standards setting bodies.

One can also point to other recent factors, such as government to government engagement, and the pressure of overseas litigation in Huawei vs ZTE (ECJ), Sisvel vs Haier (Germany), Unwired Patent vs Huawei and Samsung (United Kingdom) and Vringo vs ZTE (SDNY and other jurisdictions) as other informative experience and perhaps sources of pressure for greater international conformity.

These changes in IP ownership, standards participation, litigation experience and maturity due to increased engagement are likely having their effect on domestic policy. Within China, early this year draft IP abuse guidelines of NDRC recognized that ownership of an SEP does not automatically confer market dominance.  In July of 2015, the State Council announced its plans for China turning into a “strong IP economy”, and identified several projects involving standards.  One of the projects identified by the State Council calls for the development of rules on standard essential patents that are based on FRAND licensing and “stopping infringement”, with the involvement of AQSIQ, SIPO, MIIT, and the Supreme People’s Court (Art. 38).  As the focus of this task is on stopping infringement, rather than “abuse of dominance”, this suggests to me that a more rights-holder friendly approach.

Another hopeful sign which I have been following are suggestions that China’s Technology Import/Export Regulations  (“TIER”) may now be under revision, as was noted in the European Business in China Position Paper (2016/2017) .   Some aspects such as ownership of improvements have been the subject of the TIER  and also appear to factor into AML enforcement policy such as in the Qualcomm case. (see also QBPC’s paper on the TIER at “应允许当事人对后续改进的技术成果的权利归属进行自由约定”, attached here.[Chinese Language]).

What do you think? Please feel free to comment  with your own experiences or examples (in favor or against) in this area!

Rev. Nov. 19, 2016

Comments on Draft Guidelines on Disgorgement and Fines in AML Matters

Attached are comments of the ABA Sections of Antitrust and International Law  (ABA) and the George Mason University Global Antitrust Institute (GAI) on the draft guidelines of the National Development and Reform Commission on Disgorgement and Fines in Antimonopoly Law matters. The ABA comments are bilingual and have the complete text of the draft guidelines included in the package that is being made available here.  The guidelines were published for public consultation on June 17, 2016.

The two sets of comments offer two slightly nuanced approaches in their understanding of the final drafting responsibilities for these guidelines.  The ABA comments are nominally  directed to the Antimonopoly Commission of the State Council, while the GAI’s Comments are more directed to the National Development and Reform Commission which released this draft for eventual adoption by the Antimonopoly Commission.  The relationship between these drafts and an official adoption by the AMC is not clear to me, as the NDRC announcement of the draft states that the drafting of the guidelines are in the work plan of the Antimonopoly Commission, and that NDRC undertook the research and drafting (根据国务院反垄断委员会的工作计划,我们研究起草了《关于认定经营者垄断行为违法所得和确定罚款的指南》(征求意见稿),现面向社会公开征求意见.). It does not explicitly say that this research and  drafting was undertaken on behalf of the AMC.  Moreover, comments are to be delivered to the Pricing Bureau of NDRC, not the NDRC itself, which may suggest that this is indeed a research project (发送到国家发展改革委(价监局).  It is my view that considering the continuing battle of drafting responsibility by Antimonopoly enforcement agencies + SIPO,  in the IP Abuse guidelines, which the State Council has recently said is the responsibility of these four agencies and the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, final drafting  responsibility for an interagency antimonopoly law guideline may not be easily assumed at this time.  If others in the antitrust community have more specific information, I welcome them posting it here.

Regardless of which agency is the lead, the sharing of drafts with this website and others helps to increase our understanding of the overall process through sharing of different commenters’ positions, for which I am grateful.  I hope that over time Chinese agencies will also make all non-confidential comments publicly available.

GAI’s recommendations include that the Draft Guidelines be revised to limit the application of disgorgement (or the confiscating of illegal gain) and punitive fines to matters in which: (1) the antitrust violation is clear (i.e., if measured at the time the conduct is undertaken, and based on existing laws, rules, and regulations, a reasonable party should expect that the conduct at issue would likely be found to be illegal) and without any plausible efficiency justifications; (2) it is feasible to articulate and calculate the harm caused by the violation; (3) the measure of harm calculated is the basis for any fines or penalties imposed; and (4) there are no alternative remedies that would adequately deter future violations of the law.  In the alternative, and at the very least, the NDRC should expand the circumstances under which the Anti-Monopoly Enforcement Agencies (AMEAs) will not seek punitive sanctions such as disgorgement or fines to include two conduct categories that are widely recognized as having efficiency justifications: unilateral conduct such as refusals to deal and discriminatory dealing and vertical restraints such as exclusive dealing, tying and bundling, and resale price maintenance.

GAI also urges the NDRC to clarify how the total penalty, including disgorgement and fines, relate to the specific harm at issue and the theoretical optimal penalty.  According to GAI, economic analysis should determine the total optimal penalties, which includes any disgorgement and fines.  When fines are calculated consistent with the optimal penalty framework, disgorgement should be a component of the total fine as opposed to an additional penalty on top of an optimal fine.  If disgorgement is an additional penalty, then any fines should be reduced relative to the optimal penalty.

Finally, GAI recommends that the Anti-Monopoly Enforcement Agencies (AMEAs) rely on economic analysis to determine the harm caused by any violation.  When using proxies for the harm caused by the violation, such as using the illegal gains from the violations as the basis for fines or disgorgement, such calculations should be limited to those costs and revenues that are directly attributable to a clear violation.  This should be done in order to ensure that the resulting fines or disgorgement track the harms caused by the violation.  To that end, GAI recommends that the Draft Guidelines explicitly state that the AMEAs will use economic analysis to determine the but-for world, and will rely wherever possible on relevant market data.  When the calculation of illegal gain is unclear due to lack of relevant information, GAI strongly recommends that the AMEAs refrain from seeking disgorgement.

These comments are broader than IP-related antitrust.  One common theme they share with IP damage issues is the low utilization of economic calculations to determine damages, and unclear sensibility of when damages are adequate, deterrent or punitive.

The comments also do not address the relationship, if any, between low IP damages and high antitrust damages for IP abuse, except in the broadest sense that excessive damages may create over deterrence.  The Chinese government and academics are also increasingly focused on the problem of low IP damages, including possibilities of providing for punitive damages and higher compensatory damages,  the availability of discovery for damage calculations, such as in the trademark law and with experiments in increasing statutory damages or relying on alternative calculations such as actual or implied royalties such as occurred last year in Jiangsu (See 江苏固丰管桩集团有限公司诉宿迁华顺建筑预制构件有限公司侵害发明)专利权纠纷一案[(2015)苏知民终字第00038]), where an implied royalty was used for perhaps the first time in a patent case. The issue is also actively being discussed by academics. See, e.g., 刘自钦 , 著作权惩罚性赔偿制度在中国大陆的具体运用, Macau Law Review, No. 10, at p. 123 (Liu Zichen, Substantial Application of the Punitive Compensation System for Copyright in Chinese Mainland – Based on American Experience and the Chinese Reality).

­The current reality is that IP damages remain too low and non-deterrent.  To me this suggests a possible issue of disproportionality between IP protection and antitrust enforcement for IP abuse, or as I have often said one cannot have IP ‘abuse’ without having IP ‘use.’   On June 7, 2016 I had the pleasure in my official capacity of testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, where I discussed the issue of the large disparity between high antitrust damages and low patent infringement damages.   My testimony is also on the PTO website.  I recently calculated that the current ratio of average patent damages as determined on the www.ciela.cn database and the Qualcomm damage imposed by NDRC is about 50,000 to 1 (18,000 USD to 975 million USD); it is only somewhat lower if other databases are used.  As I noted in my testimony, antitrust damages and patent damages address different issues and thus may not always be directly comparable.  However, if the ratio is wildly disproportionate the ecosystem for innovation and technology transfer could erode.  Many companies already do not want to transfer technology to China, for fear that their IP will not be adequately protected.  As I have noted, the data already suggests that China is an under-licensed market.  Some companies may also now be avoiding China because damages are too low and/or antitrust risks are too high.  If antitrust damages become be too high in relationship to the actual value of a patent, incentives to disclose patentable inventions may erode – which itself may erode competition in the long run.  Moreover, China will suffer as it may not be able to obtain leading-edge technology.  I personally believe that antitrust and IP damages should not be wildly disproportionate, which should be another factor in antitrust damages, IP damages and in China’s efforts to become an IP “strong country.”

This blog remains my academic, personal and non-official observations and should not be construed as the opinion of the US government, or any former client or third party or even any academic institution with which I am affiliated.  Corrects and comments in English or Chinese are most welcome!

 

 

 

 

Imminent Program in Shanghai with the IP Judiciary

IP Key, the European program for IP cooperation with China is sponsoring an EU-China Judge’s forum in Shanghai on March 17-18.  The program is jointly organized by IP Judicial Protection Research Center of Supreme People’s Court, Chinese Courts International Exchanges Base (Shanghai) for Judicial Protection of Intellectual Property Rights and the European Commission.  Topics to be covered include:

  • Innovation of Business Model and Intellectual Property Protection
  • Burden of Proof, Damages Calculation and Punitive Damages in IP Lawsuits
  • Judicial Protection of Trade Secrets

For more information on this activity, visit the IP Key website.