Magistrate Judge Fallon recently Recommended Dismissing competition law counterclaims brought by TCT Mobile (TCT) against Godo Kaisha IP Bridge 1 (IP Bridge) and Panasonic and Judge Bataillon has now Adopted that ruling.  Those counterclaims were based on alleged improper conduct relating to standard essential patents (SEPs)  on European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) 2G, 3G and 4G wireless standards that IP Bridge acquired from Panasonic after those standards were adopted.  While the standards were under development, Panasonic had committed to license the SEPs on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.  TCT’s competition law counterclaims generally concerned allegations that:

  • Panasonic made FRAND commitments it did not intend to keep in order to induce the standards body to keep Panasonic’s technology in the standards;
  • After the standards were adopted, Panasonic transferred the patents to IP Bridge which offered to license the patents on terms that were not FRAND and
  • There was some type of improper concerted action between Panasonic and IP Bridge (this aspect is fairly redacted and unclear).

This case presents an interesting nuance of competition claims against a party (IP Bridge) that acquired SEPs from an original owner (Panasonic) who made a FRAND commitment.  In this case, TCT alleged that something about the transfer of the patents to IP Bridge was meant to circumvent Panasonic’s FRAND commitment (but the details of those allegations are redacted in the public court documents).

This case also indicates that an antitrust injury-in-fact cannot arise solely from a patent owner filing an infringement lawsuit on FRAND-committed SEPs.  That’s because a successful FRAND defense by the accused infringer will lead to remedies consistent with the FRAND commitment and, in any event, any relief ultimately granted by the court would be lawful.

The decision also has a unique procedural posture.  This is a decision by a magistrate judge that recommends to the presiding district court judge how to rule on the issue.  Such magistrate judge recommendations are common in patent  cases.  The presiding district court judge usually adopts a magistrate judge’s recommendation, but is not required to do so.  So we will await the district court judge’s decision whether to adopt Judge Fallon’s recommendation here.

Further, this decision concerns a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss causes of action based on the initial pleadings.  Such motions are difficult to win because of the tremendous deference the court must give to the challenged pleading — e.g., the court considers whether TCT states a “plausible” claim if the court assumes (without deciding) that all factual allegations TCT raises are true and draws all reasonable inferences in TCT’s favor.   And courts are even more reluctant to grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion against competition law claims, which may be factually complex and require information in the hands of the alleged wrong-doer that can be obtained only in discovery.   In this case, however, TCT apparently had almost a year of discovery and two attempts to plead its competition law claims, which may have provided the court more comfort in its dispositive ruling here. Continue Reading Magistrate Judge Fallon recommends dismissing competition claims against SEP holder (Godo Kaisha IP Bridge v. TCL et al)

Today, Judge Selna issued on Order ruling on Ericsson’s motion to alter or amend his FRAND ruling. (See our Jan. 3, 2018 post summarizing FRAND royalty ruling).  Under the procedural posture of the Rule 52(b) motion for seeking modification of a judge’s bench trial findings of fact and law, Ericsson had to show that its proposed changes to that ruling were needed “to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to address newly discovered evidence or controlling law” or were not changes that “would not affect the outcome of the case or are immaterial to the court’s conclusions.” (Order at 2).  Given this difficult standard, Judge Selna only agreed to make minor word changes to his decision, which he will soon reissue with other clerical corrections and some corrections to be made based on TCL’s Rule 52(b) motions (which were also apparently minor changes).  To be clear: by “minor changes” we mean as far as significance in applying the decision to other cases between other parties; we could be mistaken and, moreover, have no comment on how significant the changes may be to the instant parties in this particular case.  The next substantive step in this case will be the Federal Circuit appeal that Ericsson already filed, but that has been stayed pending the outcome of the parties’ Rule 52(b) motions. Continue Reading Judge Selna will make minor changes to FRAND ruling (TCL v. Ericsson)

Judge James V. Selna of the Central District of California (“C.D. Cal.”) recently released the redacted, 115-page public version of his Memo of Facts and Law with his FRAND determination in the TCL v. Ericsson SEP dispute concerning 2G, 3G and 4G cellular technology in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (“ETSI”) standards along with his Final Judgment And Injunction, which injunction has detailed terms like one would find in a licensing agreement.

Judge Selna ultimately ruled that Ericsson’s licensing conduct did not breach its FRAND commitment, but that Ericsson’s proposed licensing terms were not FRAND.  Judge Selna rejected the FRAND methodologies and resulting FRAND royalty rates proposed by both TCL and Ericsson.  Judge Selna did his own FRAND methodology based on the methods and evidence presented by the parties, following mainly a modified version of a “top down” approach proposed by TCL.  The FRAND rates determined by Judge Selna fell about half-way between TCL and Ericsson’s proposals, though direct comparison is difficult.  For example, for Ericsson’s 4G SEPs, the royalty rates from the parties and court varied as to scope (e.g., blended global rate versus regional rate) and required some conversion to compare (e.g., Judge Selna computed an effective “unpacked” royalty that accounted for lump-sum payments and royalty floors in Ericsson’s offers):

4G SEP Royalty Rate
(Percentage of Mobile Phone’s Net Price)

TCL’s Proposed 4G Global Rate 0.16% (Blended global rate)
Court’s 4G Rates (by region) 0.450% (U.S.)
0.314% (Rest of World; No 4G Sales in Europe)
Ericsson Effective U.S. 4G Rates
(Court calculated from Option A and B offers)
1.074% (Option A Effective U.S. Rate) or
1.988% (Option B Effective U.S. Rate)

We provide below a bullet-list summary of some key points from the decision as well as a (rather lengthy) detailed discussion of Judge Selna’s decision.  We consider this an important decision to read, and encourage you to do so, because it is one of the few decisions that describe a court’s analysis in determining a disputed FRAND royalty.  But we also believe this case provides only incremental development of the case law itself given the highly factual nature of the decision in this still developing area of law.  Judge Selna  acknowledged that trying to obtain “precision and absolute certainty” here was a “doomed undertaking.”  In other words: Learn from this decision, but do not assume it represents a definitive proper FRAND analysis and is representative of a FRAND royalty for all FRAND cases. Its one step in a continuing journey … Continue Reading Judge Selna determines FRAND Rate and enters contract-type injunction on ETSI SEPs (TCL v. Ericsson)

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods that limits the venue — i.e., geographical location–of where patent cases may be brought.  For decades prior to this decision, venue was construed broadly to be essentially anywhere a defendant has minimum contacts.  By today’s decision, venue is  construed narrowly as limited to where the defendant either (i) is incorporated or (ii) has a regular and established place of business in which the defendant committed acts of infringement.

This ruling may substantially limit the number of patent cases that may be brought in the perceived patent-friendly Eastern District of Texas.  This also may increase the number of patent cases brought in patent-savvy Delaware, because that is where most companies are incorporated.  The decision also may make it harder to sue multiple defendants in a single action, because it may be difficulty to establish proper venue over all defendants.

This decision also takes more wind out of the sales of those seeking legislative changes to U.S. patent law.  Whether rightly or wrongly (we express no view here), the E.D. Texas has been used as an example of patent litigation abuse, venue shopping and the need for patent reform.  This decision may end that concern and follows other court decisions addressing patent litigation issues as well as the FTC’s patent assertion entity study that did not find the widespread patent litigation abuse that had fueled legislative efforts. (see, e.g., our Apr. 29, 2014 post on Supreme Court making it easier to get attorneys fees in patent cases and our Oct. 7, 2016 post on the FTC’s PAE study). Continue Reading Supreme Court limits patent venue statute (TC Heartland v. Kraft)

Judge Gilstrap recently ruled that  certain challenges to a damages expert’s testimony  went toward the weight a jury could give that testimony, rather than whether the testimony should be admitted.  Specific FRAND-related portions of the testimony that he would admit at trial include the following:

  • Expert could testify that the hypothetical FRAND royalty rate to be awarded for infringement damages (which presumes the patents are valid and infringed) would be higher than the royalty rate of a comparable FRAND license, which comparable license’s royalty rate may have been skewed low based on discounts made for litigation risks and costs.
  • Expert could testify about FRAND royalties that the accused infringer charges for its own SEPs.
  • Expert could testify about licenses negotiated in the context of German litigation and threat of injunction.

Judge Gilstrap indicated that the expert had sufficiently identified what he relied on and explained adjustments that he made to those proposed comparable licenses to account for differences from the hypothetical negotiated license.  The defendant’s challenges to that testimony goes to the weight the jury should give the testimony, not its admissibility.

Judge Gilstrap’s ruling is an interesting example of how FRAND litigation has matured since taking the main stage in Judge Robart’s first-of-its-kind FRAND royalty decision in Microsoft v. Motorola (see our May 1, 2013 post) and Judge Holderman’s following decision in In re Innovatio (see our Oct. 3, 2013 post).  Both of those 2013 decisions were based on, inter alia, a general failure of litigants to present sufficiently comparable licenses.  Since then, Federal Circuit decisions have leaned toward admitting comparable licenses where expert testimony sufficiently accounts for differences from the hypothetical negotiated license.

For example, the Federal Circuit’s 2014 Virnetx decision (a non-SEP case) counseled that, although “alleging loose or vague comparability … does not suffice,” a jury may consider comparable licenses where differences from the hypothetically negotiated license are explained to them (see our Sep. 17, 2014 post).  And the Federal Circuit’s 2015 Ericsson decision (an SEP FRAND case) stressed that, although real world licenses “are almost never perfectly analogous to the infringement action,” the jury may consider them if expert testimony accounts for “distinguishing facts when invoking them to value the patented invention.” (see our Dec. 5, 2015 post).  Litigants following the Federal Circuit’s guidance may find courts more willing to allow expert testimony on proposed comparable licenses despite their differences from the hypothetical negotiated license.

Continue Reading Judge Gilstrap permits damages expert testimony that litigated FRAND royalty should be higher than comparable license’s FRAND royalty that was skewed low by litigation risk discount (St Lawrence v. ZTE)

Magistrate Judge Payne recently ruled against prospective licensee T-Mobile’s motion to dismiss patent owner Huawei’s Declaratory Judgment Complaint that seeks a declaration that Huawei  complied with its FRAND commitments to ETSI regarding LTE standard-essential patents during Huawei’s license negotiations with T-Mobile.  Judge Payne did not rule whether or not Huawei had complied with its licensing negotiations; rather, he simply indicated that there was sufficient controversy between the parties and concern that T-Mobile might bring a breach of contract action against Huawei that the court could exercise declaratory judgment subject-matter jurisdiction to resolve the FRAND-compliance dispute.  This is a procedural ruling that is subject to review by the presiding district court judge, Judge Gilstrap.

This decision is interesting because it supports a way for patent owners with large SEP portfolios to resolve FRAND or other licensing disputes in a single action and, thereby, avoid complex and expensive patent infringement litigations on a patent-by-patent basis.  But the devil is in the details and we will await further developments as the case proceeds. Continue Reading Judge Payne rules patent owner may bring case seeking a declaration that it has not breached FRAND commitments (Huawei v. T-Mobile)

Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins recently denied Apple’s equitable defense that sought to hold a Core Wireless standard essential patent unenforceable because the prior patent owner Nokia allegedly failed to timely disclose to the ETSI standards body a pending patent application.  Judge Cousins also entered Final Judgment based on the jury’s recent verdict that awarded a $7.3 million lump sum reasonable royalty for Apple’s infringement of two SEPs (see our Dec. 15, 2016 post on the verdict).  This case provides incremental insight into litigating issues concerning a patentee’s alleged failure to disclose intellectual property rights to a standards body, at least with respect to the equitable theories of implied waiver and equitable estoppel.

In this case, the alleged failure to disclose related to a pending U.S. patent application that claimed priority to a Finnish patent application that was filed by the patent owner and pending while the standard was being developed.  The U.S. patent application did not issue as the patent-in-suit until several years after the standard was adopted.  Within a month or so of the patent’s issue, the patent owner disclosed the patent to the standards body, which was deemed to be “shortly after [the patentee] could point to the contours of its IPR with specificity because the claims were allowed.”

This did not give rise to an inference that the patent owner was relinquishing its patent rights as required to establish implied waiver.  And Apple, who did not create or sell its adjudged infringing products until many years later, did not show that it had relied on Nokia’s failure to disclose or was prejudiced by it, as required to establish equitable estoppel. Continue Reading Court denies Apple’s equitable defense that was premised on failure to disclose patent applications to a standards body (Core Wireless v. Apple)

Today, a Northern District of California jury in a trial before Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins entered a Verdict finding that Apple infringed two patents alleged essential to ETSI and 3GPP cellular standards, that the patents were not invalid and awarding a reasonable royalty in the amount of $3.4 Million and $3.9 Million for each patent, respectively, as single lump sum payments for past and future infringement.  It is not clear from the public record how the jury reached this damages verdict or whether it favors more the patent owner Core Wireless or the adjudged infringer Apple.  We may follow-up this post if more insight is provided by post-trial briefings or the trial transcripts become public.

Below is a discussion of some of the pre-trial rulings and jury instructions that would have shaped the jury’s reasonable royalty determination here.  These rulings touch-on the issues of royalty stacking, the smallest salable patent practicing unit, the form of a reasonable royalty, relevant Georgia-Pacific factors and apportionment to the value of the patented technology. Continue Reading Jury awards Core Wireless $7.3 Million lump sum for Apple’s infringement of two SEPs (Core Wireless v. Apple)

Judge Gilstrap recently entered Final Judgment that included a 20% enhancement of damages based on a Jury Verdict that LG willfully infringed two patents that patent owner Core Wireless alleged to be essential to certain cellular standards.  This appears to be the first case of a court enhancing damages based on willful infringement of a standard essential patent.  Recall that Judge Gilstrap previously denied LG’s pre-trial motion to preclude finding willful infringement of an alleged standard essential patent, but indicated that he might consider LG’s policy arguments if he were to consider enhancing damages if the jury found that LG willfully infringed the patents (see our Sep. 7, 2016 post).

Judge Gilstrap has now ruled that he will enhance damages following the jury verdict that LG willfully infringed the patent, and he did so sua sponte, meaning that he enhanced damages without the patent owner filing a post-trial motion seeking such enhancement or the parties briefing same.  Judge Gilstrap has since stayed execution of the judgment while the parties file post-trial motions, which motions most likely will address the issue of willful infringement and enhanced damages.

Judge Gilstrap’s decision to enhance damages  was due to LG’s negotiation conduct and apparently weak infringement/validity defenses, which led him to conclude that “LG’s decision to terminate negotiations and continue operations without a license was driven by its resistance to being the first in the industry to take a license, and not by the merits or strength of its non-infringement and invalidity defenses.” Continue Reading Judge Gilstrap enhances damages for willful infringement of SEPs (Core Wireless v. LG)

At the same time that Judge Gilstrap recently entered his bench trial ruling that rejected Metaswitch’s standards-based equitable defenses (see our Oct. 2, 2016 post), he also entered an Order that rejected Metaswitch’s request to set aside a jury’s verdict that it infringed valid patent claims based on, among other things, SEP-related grounds.  The ruling is interesting mainly due to the procedural issues it raises.  Judge Gilstrap did make a substantive ruling that the CableLabs, IETF and ITU-T intellectual property rights (IPR) agreements at issue applied on a patent claim-by-claim basis and not on a patent-by-patent basis (i.e., some claims in a patent may be subject to the IPR agreement, but other claims within that same patent may not). Continue Reading Judge Gilstrap rejects SEP-based arguments to set aside jury infringement and damages verdict (Genband v. Metaswitch)