Across the Fault Lines: Chinese Judicial Approaches to Injunctions and SEP’s

As has been noted in the media, on April 26, 2018, the Guangdong High People’s Court (GHC) promulgated the Trial Adjudication Guidance for Standard Essential Patent Dispute Cases (the “Guangdong Guidance”). The Guangdong Guidance adhered to the basic framework of Beijing Higher Court’s (BHC) Guidance for Patent Infringement Determination 2017 (the “Beijing Guidance”) which itself appears quite similar with the basic framework set forth by Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in its decision for Huawei v. ZTE, as well as in the recent decisions of Iwncomm v. Sony (see abridged English translation from the Comparative Patent Remedies blog here) in Beijing and Huawei v. Samsung in Shenzhen.  Taken together, these approaches depart from prior Supreme People’s Court (SPC) practices, and embody a “fault-based” conduct-evaluation framework. The Guangdong Guidance further suggests that courts which apply the fault-based conduct-evaluation framework may rely on a comparable license approach than other approaches to determine FRAND royalties.

At First the FRAND Licensor Is Barred from Seeking an Injunction

The earliest Chinese court’s attitude about determining injunctive relieves and royalties for standard-related patent infringement case can be found in the reply letter issued by the SPC on July 8, 2008 to the Liaoning High People’s Court (LHC).  The SPC instructed the LHC that once a patent holder participated in the standard setting process and agreed to have its patents adopted in the standard, the court shall deem the patent holder as having consented to license its patents to anyone who implements the standard.  The patent holder can charge the standard implementer for royalties, which, however, shall be less than the usual amount of royalty if a standard were not involved. The court would also implement the promise of a patentee to license on a royalty-free basis.

Subsequently, on October 16, 2013, the GHC upheld the Shenzhen Intermediate Court decision of Huawei v. InterDigital. In this case, the Chinese court held that once an implementer had indicated its willingness to conclude a license, a FRAND encumbered SEP owner shall have the obligation to make a FRAND offer to the implementer. The key to determining whether the offer was FRAND is the evaluation of the royalty rate. Their opinion may also be read to suggest that the courts might reject a FRAND-encumbered SEP owner’s petition for an injunction when an implementer expressed it willingness to conclude an agreement. However, the court did not address how to determine whether an implementer is willing to negotiate.

The SPC Picks up the Fault Factors First

On March 21, 2016, the Supreme People’s Court of China promulgated the Judicial Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding Legal Application in the Adjudication of Patent Infringement Cases II (the “Patent JI II). Article 24 of the interpretation stipulated that the Court shall not support the SEP owners’ petition for a permanent injunction if the SEP owner intentionally acted against its FRAND commitment made in the standardization process during the negotiation of licensing conditions with the accused infringer, and the infringer was not at “obvious fault” during the licensing negotiation. Paragraph 2 of this Article also provides that in determining licensing conditions, a court shall, in accordance with FRAND principles, comprehensively consider the contribution of the innovation and its role in the standard, the situation in the technical field of the standard, the nature of the standard, the scope of exploitation of the standard, the related licensing conditions and other factors. This Interpretation thus introduced the fault-based idea into Chinese courts’ consideration of whether to issue an injunction in a SEP related case. The types of standards referred by Article 24, according to its language, are limited to non-mandatory national, industrial and local standards. The promulgation of Patent JI II opened the gate for the Chinese courts to view FRAND obligations as imposing certain conduct behavior on both the SEP owner as well as the standard implementer.

One year later, with the promulgation of the Beijing Guidance, the BHC extended the fault-based test for determining an injunction from the SEP owner to the standard implementer. In the Beijing Guidance, BHC attempted to structure a more complete and balanced framework for SEP injunctions. Article 150 of the Guidelines stipulated that both parties shall negotiate in good faith during the SEP licensing negotiation. Article 152 of Beijing Guidance targets the situation in which both parties were not at obvious fault. It provides that if the infringer duly submitted the amount of royalty it offered or a deposit no less than that amount to the court, then the court shall not generally support the SEP owner’s petition for a permanent injunction. Article 152 also detailed the situations where the court can determine the SEP owner disobeyed its FRAND obligation. These principles were also articulated in Article 13 of the Guangdong Guidance with some difference in detail. Article 153 of the Beijing Guidance targets the situation in which the SEP owner disobeyed its FRAND obligation and simultaneously the accused infringer was also found acted at obvious fault during the negotiation. It provides that the decision to grant an injunction shall be based on which party is more blameworthy for the break-down of the negotiation. Article 153 also enumerated the situations by which a court can determine that the accused infringer acted at obvious fault, which is also articulated by Article 14 of the Guangdong Guidance with some difference in details.

The complete general principles of deciding whether to issue permanent injunctions in SEP involved infringement cases was firstly laid out in the decision for Iwncomm v. Sony by BHC on March 28, 2018. The court reiterated that in a SEP licensing negotiation, both parties should negotiate in good faith. The decision to enter a permanent injunction should be based on which party is to blame for the break-down in negotiations by considering the performance of both parties during the process of negotiation as well as the substantial terms offered to conclude the agreement. The court enumerated four general situations:

  1. If the SEP owner intentionally acted against its FRAND commitment which led to the break-down of the negotiation, and the infringer was not at “obvious fault”, the court shall not support the SEP owner’s petition for permanent injunction;
  2. If the SEP owner was not at “obvious fault” during the negotiation, and instead, it was the infringer that at “obvious fault”, the SEP owner’s petition for permanent injunction shall be supported by a court;
  3. If evidence indicates that both parties were not at “obvious fault”,and the infringer duly submitted the amount of royalty he offered or a deposit no less than that amount to the court, the court shall not sustain the SEP owner’s petition for permanent injunction;
  4. If both parties are found acted at fault, the decision of whether to grant an injunction depends on an assessment of the faults of both parties.

Comparing these principles with the language in the Beijing Guidance, where the SEP owner acted at obvious fault while the accused infringer did not, it appears that submitting a deposit to a court is no longer the premise for the court to deny an injunction request. The deposit is only specifically required in the situation where both parties were not at “obvious fault.” In Iwncomm v. Sony, Sony, the accused infringer, was found to be intentionally engaging in delaying tactics and was therefore at obvious fault.  The BHC upheld the Beijing Intellectual Property Court’s decision of granting a permanent injunction. This case was also discussed in the Comparative Patent Remedies blog,

Huawei v Samsung And the Shenzhen Court Flexes its Muscles…

On January 4th, 2018, about two months before BHPC came to its conclusion on Iwncomm v. Sony, the Intellectual Property Division of the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court granted injunctions against Samsung in two separate decisions in Huawei v. Samsung. After detailed examination of the performance of both parties in the past licensing negotiation process and the court mediation process, the court then found Samsung was at “obvious fault” and that it acted against FRAND principles. Thus, a permanent injunction was granted. The court also ruled that in the light of the different nature of SEP and non-SEP cases, the two parties are allowed to continue negotiating licensing terms after the judgment, and the injunction will not be enforced on the condition that the parties reach an agreement later or Huawei consents not to enforce it.

The court’s injunction absent licensing-decisive negotiations or the probability of Huawei’s decision not to enforce the injunction was the basis for Judge Orrick’s Anti-Suit Injunction in the US counterpart case that enjoins Huawei from enforcing the Shenzhen Court’s injunction.

In Judge Orrick’s view, his court was the first to hear the case even if it were not the first to decide it, upon the petition of the same party (Huawei), and any decision to enjoin activity in Guangdong would undercut the possibility of a global settlement, which is the basis of Huawei’s claim before his court. Unlike the Chinese courts to date, Judge Orrick does undertake a lengthy comity analysis to justify his decision. Judge Orrick’s decision stands in stark contrast to another, earlier Shenzhen decision, Huawei v InterDigital (2013) which determined that InterDigital’s seeking an injunction (exclusion order) at the USITC was an abuse of its rights as a SEP holder, and arguably showed no deference to a previously initiated US litigation. Judge Orrick may have been taking prophylactic measures to ensure that US courts retain jurisdiction over disputes, and to deny a Chinese party “two bites” of the apple by undercutting a case that the Chinese plaintiff initiated at essentially the same time as a Chinese litigation.

The Guangdong Guidance was promulgated with all of the foregoing Chinese cases and judicial practices in mind. Article 10 of the Guidance explicitly reiterated that whether a permanent injunction is granted shall depend on whether the SEP owner or the implementer was at fault. Article 11 provides that when deciding whether the parties were at fault comparing with ordinary business practices, the factors that a court shall consider include: (1) the entire history of the negotiation; (2) the timing, tactic and content of negotiation of the parties; (3) the cause of deadlock, and; (4) other facts. Article 12 generally restates the principles of whether granting a permanent injunction set forth by the BHC in Iwncomm v. Sony. Article 13 and 14 followed the basic idea and structure of Article 152 and 153 of the Beijing Guidance for conduct-evaluation for both parties with some differences in detail.

Article 13 provides that if the SEP owner’s conduct met any one of the following situations, a court may determine the SEP owner disobeyed its FRAND obligation. The situations include: a SEP owner who (1) did not notify the implementer, or notified the implementer but didn’t list the scope of the patent in dispute according to the ordinary business practice; (2) did not provide the implementer with explanatory claim charts, patent lists and other patent information according to the ordinary business practice after the implementer had clearly expressed its willingness to negotiate the license; (3) did not provide the implementer with licensing conditions and the method of calculating the royalty, or provided obviously unreasonable licensing conditions, which result in failure to reach an agreement; (4) did not reply to the counter party within reasonable time; (5) impeded or interrupt the negotiation without justifiable reasons, and; (6) practiced other conduct at obvious fault.

Article 14 enumerates the situations that the court may determine an implementer disobeyed its FRAND obligation accordingly. The situations include an implementer who (1) refused to receive the negotiation notice from the SEP owner, or did not respond to the SEP owner within a reasonable time after it had received the negotiation notice; (2) refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, and thus led to a deadlock in negotiation; (3) did not make a material response to the SEP owner within a reasonable time after the SEP owner had provided explanatory claim charts and patent lists; (4) did not make a material response to the SEP owner within a reasonable time after the SEP owner offered its licensing conditions; (5) provided obviously unreasonable licensing conditions, which resulted in failure to reach an agreement; (6) delayed to or refused to negotiation without justifiable reasons, and; (7) practiced other conduct at obvious fault.

While the Chinese fault-based conduct-evaluation frameworks borrowed ideas from the CJEU’s decision for Huawei v. ZTE, the starting point of the Chinese framework is in different from the CJEU framework. The direct objective of CJEU framework was to answer the question whether a SEP owner’s action for seeking injunction breaks EU competition laws, specifically the Article 102 of TFEU. Logically speaking, courts that follow the CJEU’s framework do not need to answer whether an injunction should be granted. On the other hand, the Chinese framework directly addresses whether an injunction should be granted without reference to antitrust principles.

A Break With Tradition and A Rush to Change?

After these various developments, it can be said that Chinese courts now view the FRAND commitments as a universal principle binding both the SEP owner and the implementer. This approach leaves open where the implementors’ obligations of negotiating in good faith come from and when and how such obligations are triggered. Historically, Chinese courts also do not consider the infringer’s state of mind when deciding whether to issue a permanent injunction, nor are such standards part of the Patent Law (Art. 118, 134) or the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China (Art. 179 ) or the more recent General Rules of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China. The framework introduces new judicial doctrines to determine a permanent injunction into Chinese patent law practice, which is also atypical for Chinese legal practice.  However, as China is currently considering introducing punitive damages in next revision of the patent law, fault-based factors may become more important and, indeed, fault factors involving punitive damages and an implementer’s state of mind in SEP negotiations could conceivably overlap.

It also worth noting that the judicial evaluation of royalties still plays an important role in this fault-based conduct-evaluation framework.  In determining whether an offer or a counter offer are FRAND, the court may rely much more on the comparable license approach. Article 18 of the Guangdong Guidance provides that in determining SEP royalties, the methods a court may refer to include: (1) comparing the comparable licenses; (2) measuring the market value of the SEP in dispute; (3) comparing the licensing information of comparable patent pools, and; (4) other methods. Last but not least, Article 16 of the Guangdong Guidance also confers the courts with the jurisdiction of setting royalties beyond its jurisdictional territory under one party’s petition as long as the counter -party does not file an objection or the objection is found to be unjustified.

Chinese courts’ approach appears to reflect the increasing global experience in adjudicating FRAND-encumbered patent infringement matters.  The fault-based approach also helps address the problem of Chinese implementers delaying in taking licenses and using the FRAND obligation as a sword to deny a patentee access to judicial relief, at possible risk of a licensor being on the receiving end of an antimonopoly action.  The approach also appears to reflect Chinese, and especially Guangdong-based companies, rapidly growing role as both a patent implementer and a contributor to important emerging standards, such as 5G. Nonetheless it is concerning that the pioneering cases noted here ruling in favor of a licensor acting in good faith and being entitled to obtain injunctive relief have all occurred where the licensor was Chinese (Iwncomm v Sony, Huawei v Samsung).    This is a scenario not that different from what some observers thought was the problem behind the President taking the unusual step of denying relief to Samsung in the Apple vs Samsung 337 litigation in the US – the binary observation is that it seems to be easier to make precedent eroding/strengthening IP rights when the party adversely affected/benefitted is foreign/domestic. For previous information about the Obama administration’s refusal on USITC’s order, please see here, here, here, here and here.

Written by Yabing Cui, LLM of Berkeley Law 2018 and Ph.D. Candidate of Peking University Law with the the assistance of Mark Cohen.  Yabing can be contacted at cuiyabing@berkeley.edu.

March 19 – 26, 2018 Updates

1. China Now Number 2 PCT Filer.  China has overtaken Japan to claim second place as a source of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications  in 2017. In 2017, U.S.-based applicants numbered 56,624 PCT, followed by China (48,882) and Japan (48,208). Huawei Technologies (4,024 published PCT applications) and ZTE Corporation (2,965) – occupied the top two spots for PCT applications. They were followed by Intel (2,637), Mitsubishi Electric (2,521) and Qualcomm  (2,163).   Historically Chinese PCT applications have been concentrated in a few companies.

Chinese academic institutions are still minor users of the PCT.   Among the top 25 educational institution filers, there were only three Chinese academic institutions – Shenzhen University (no. 11), China University of Mining and Technology (no. 15) and Tsinghua (no. 19).

Computer technology (8.6% of the total) overtook digital communication (8.2%) to become the field of technology with the largest share of published PCT applications. These two fields were followed by electrical machinery (6.8%) and medical technology (6.7%)

2. China’s premier pledges market opening in bid to avert trade war On the heels of the Section 301 Report, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated pledges to ease access for American businesses, at the news conference following the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). Li also said at a conference that included global chief executives that China would treat foreign and domestic firms equally, would not force foreign firms to transfer technology and would strengthen intellectual property rights. Another Vice Premier, Han Zheng,  made similar remarks at the China Development Forum.  Han said that China needs to “open even wider to the outside world,” and would do so via its Belt and Road Initiative.

According to Wall Street Journal citing unidentified source, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listed steps they want China to take in a letter to Liu He, a newly appointed vice premier who oversees China’s economy. The United States asked China to cut a tariff on U.S. autos, buy more U.S.-made semiconductors and give U.S. firms greater access to the Chinese financial sector. The article also reported that China and the U.S. have quietly started negotiating to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets.

 

Forthcoming Webinar on Developments in SEP Prosecution and Injunctive Relief in China

The Federal Circuit Bar Association and USPTO announced on July 17, 2017 that they are hosting a webinar on the latest research and developments in standards essential patents (SEPs) in China on July 25, 2017 from 9:00 to 11:30 AM, EST.  The draft agenda and suggested reading materials are available via the link here.  Registration is free and is required to participate in the program.  Some of the speakers will also be discussing live at USPTO, for which registration is also required.  The focus of the program is on developments and research in patent prosecution and injunctive relief for SEPs.

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

morevoices

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

Qualcomm’s Litigation Strategies and Recent IP Developments in China

反者道之動。弱者道之用。 (, Chap. 40) (Return is the movement of the Dao. Yielding is the way of the Dao.  Daodejing, Chap. 40.)

To the uninitiated, Qualcomm’s licensing practices in China must appear confusing.  Since paying a fine of 975 million USD to NDRC – about 50,000 times average patent damages according to the CIELA database for its Standards Essential Patent licensing practices, Qualcomm has entered into approximately 100  licensing settlements with Chinese companies.  How can the weak become so successful, so soon?

According to press accounts, Qualcomm has settled with the major cell phone manufacturers in China,  most recently with Chinese cell phone companies Vivo and Oppo.  Both deals came after Qualcomm decided to bring law suits against cell phone manufacturer Meizu in the Beijing and Shanghai intellectual property courts for damages that reportedly total about 520 million RMB.  The first law suit was filed by Qualcomm around June 23 at the Beijing Intellectual Property Court.   The complaint essentially sought to enforce an NDRC rectification plan imposed on Qualcomm against other infringers/potential licensees.  The original complaint, according to Qualcomm’s press release “requests rulings that the terms of a patent license offered by Qualcomm to Meizu comply with China’s Anti-Monopoly Law, and Qualcomm’s fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing obligations.  The complaint also seeks a ruling that the offered patent license terms should form the basis for a patent license with Meizu for Qualcomm’s fundamental technologies patented in China for use in mobile devices, including those relating to 3G (WCDMA and CDMA2000) and 4G (LTE) wireless communications standards.”  Since that filing, Qualcomm filed 17 new complaints were filed in Beijing and Shanghai.

Given the risks to Qualcomm posed by seeking injunctive relief for standards essential patents, Qualcomm appears to have initially launched its litigation campaign against Meizu by enforcing the NDRC approved licensing terms against one hold out company who might thereafter be left with an unfair competitive advantage.   Qualcomm appears to be reducing its antitrust risks by first getting “immunized” by NDRC, and then enforcing the terms of the NDRC “rectification plan” and couching its patent infringement litigation in terms of promoting fair competition.  This in effect has turned the tables on recalcitrant licensees who have previously relied on Qualcomm’s FRAND commitments to reduce the risk of being sued by Qualcomm by threatening an antitrust counterclaim.  What remains to be seen, however, is the legal status the court affords the rectification plan given the often unclear relationships between judicial and administrative decision making.

Qualcomm’s GC, Don Rosenberg said Qualcomm is taking legal action out of a sense of fairness to other companies that are paying what they owe.  In addition, the case represents a vote of confidence by Qualcomm in the court system.  As Don Rosenberg noted “”We’re putting our faith in the court system there and we wouldn’t do that if we didn’t think we were in capable hands.”  Qualcomm may no doubt have been inspired by the success of its licensing program as well as the perfect or near perfect win rate in the sixty five infringement cases filed by foreigners in 2015 in the Beijing IP court.  As I have noted repeatedly on this blog, foreigners do win IP cases in China.

In China’s current legal environment,  where licensing is burdened by seemingly contradictory norms – e.g., where the Chinese government sets prices for license transactions in antitrust cases, restricts the freedom to negotiate of foreigners, provides tax incentives for licensing in to China for high tech enterprises, sets national goals for licensing transactions, and where the courts seem to have difficulty imposing damages based on actual or implied royalties, Qualcomm appears to be turning the 975 million dollars of “lemons” of the  NDRC fine, into a vat of lemonade.

Qualcomm’s vote of confidence in the courts in a high stakes case may also help set an important model for other foreign and Chinese rightsholders, potentially by highlighting such important issues as: Yes, foreigners win cases in China, the importance of actual or explicit license agreements for determining damages (already being tried in some jurisdictions, 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 (Jiangsu, 2015), and the respective roles of patent law,  antitrust law, the courts and administrative agencies, in obtaining SEP licenses in China.

Qualcomm and China both have a lot at stake in the handling of SEP issues.   A recent report by Thomson Reuters (The Evolving Landscape of Standard Essential Patents: Keeping What is Essential, Sawant and Oak), showed that Qualcomm owns 17% of the patent declarations before the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, followed by Nokia, Huawei, and InterDigital.   Decisions in Europe such as Huawei vs. ZTE may also have underscored the importance of looking at whether a putative licensee/infringer is in fact negotiating in good faith with a FRAND encumbered licensor.

Judges such as  Zhu Li of the SPC have noted some of these changes publicly.  As Zhu Li said in a recent blog:

…标准必要专利权作出FRAND承诺即自愿放弃了在任何情况下寻求禁令救济的选择,更不意味着其寻求禁令救济一定产生反竞争的效果。因此,作出FRAND承诺的标准必要专利权利人寻求禁令救济的反竞争效果仍然需要具体分析判断。

[T]he owner of standard essential patent FRAND commitment that is made voluntarily does not give up under all circumstances the choice of seeking injunctive relief.  Furthermore, it does not mean seeking injunctive relief must produce anti-competitive effects. Therefore, when a holder of a FRAND encumbered SEP seeks injunctive relief, the anti-competitive effects still need specific analysis and judgment。

The evolving practice appears to be that the evidentiary burden to demonstrate that the infringers have refused to pay a license fee is on the licensor and, as Zhu Li noted,  a monopoly is not necessarily constituted when an injunction is requested by SEP owners.

The State Council’s recent opinion on how China should become a “strong” IP country, also highlighted how China needs to draft rules on standard essential patents that are based on FRAND licensing and “stopping infringement” (Art. 38) (with the involvement of AQSIQ, SIPO, MIIT, and the Supreme People’s Court) and that encouraging standardization of Chinese patents also remains a priority (Arts. 61, 71).

As I indicated elsewhere, a key question for China is “What circumstances exist to suggest that a prospective licensee is engaged in patent hold-out, i.e., refusing to license in good faith which might suspend the licensor’s F/RAND obligation…”  Hopefully China is beginning to ask the better questions that are suitable for its licensing environment and its efforts to become a “strong” IP economy.

What are you observing in this hot area? Please post your comments and corrections!

The preceding is the author’s personal opinion only.

lemonade

SISVEL Vs. Haier: First German FRAND Case Decided Post Huawei vs. ZTE

The information in this blog comes to me via the German law firm of Arnold Ruess and the English language website of IAM (Joff Wild) (Nov. 12, 2015).

In what is apparently Germany’s first decision relating to FRAND and standards essential patents (SEPs) since the European Court of Justice’s decision in the Huawei vs. ZTE case, the Italian company Sisvel has been granted injunctive relief by the Düsseldorf Regional Court after a finding by that court that Sisvel’s patents had been infringed by Haier (Cases 4a O 93/14 and 4a O 144/14) (Nov. 3, 2015). The judgments are based on the German patents that belong to the Sisvel wireless patent portfolio. The judgements have not yet been appealed.

According to the IAM translation of the Arnold Ruess news release, the Court made the following determinations regarding the FRAND defense raised by Haier.

“The Court … held that the FRAND defense raised by Haier was not successful as it had not complied with the … requirements [of Huawei vs. ZTE]. It therefore did not need to decide on the preliminary question whether the FRAND defense was applicable at all as, …this would only be the case if the SEPs in suit actually conferred SISVEL with a market dominant position.

The Court found that SISVEL had complied with point 1 (information on patent infringement) [of Huawei vs ZTE]. In cases where the action was filed before [Huawei vs. ZTE] … was rendered, it is sufficient that the infringer gains knowledge about the infringement via the statement of claims.

The Court also confirmed that SISVEL had made a suitable license offer to Haier. It is sufficient if the license offer is addressed to the mother company of the alleged infringer in order to initiate negotiations. It would be a mere formality if a patent holder had to address all affiliates of a group separately.

The Court did not have to dwell on the details of whether SISVEL’s offer was FRAND and also left open whether Haier was already excluded from the FRAND defense as it had not reacted in a timely manner [as required Huawei vs ZTE, which would have mandated that if SISVEL does not accept the counter-offer, Haier had to render account and provide security for the payment of past royalties.]

… The Court in addition held that such rendering of account and the provision of a bond has to take place within a month after the rejection of the counter-offer by the patent holder.”

Huawei vs ZTE and its relationship to proposed NDRC IP abuse guidelines are discussed in further detail here.

I look forward to reading this important decision in full.