Judge Gilstrap recently entered an Order that rejected various defenses raised by Metaswitch based on the prior patent owner’s (Nortel) activities in standards organizations CableLabs, the Internet Engineering Task Force (“IETF”) and the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”). The decision highlights the importance of considering the specific language of the standard setting intellectual property rights (“IPR”) policy and patent owner commitment at issue as well as the importance of showing that the standard incorporates the patented technology and is implemented in the accused infringing products.
For example, under the wording of the specific CableLabs IPR Agreement at issue, Judge Gilstrap ruled that (1) an entities’ commitment only applied to intellectual property (e.g., patents or applications) it owned at the time the entity made the commitment and did not apply to intellectual property that the entity later acquired and (2) a subsidiary’s intellectual property commitment did not obligate its parent entity. Thus, although one of Nortel’s subsidiary’s that owned no patents participated in the CableLabs standards process, Nortel could hold (and later sell) patents relevant to the CableLabs standard without those Nortel patents being subject to the royalty-free licensing obligation that CableLab’s otherwise required of participants.
Further, Judge Gilstrap ruled that the accused infringer failed to show one or more material parts of the alleged standard setting obligation, such as showing that (i) the standard setting document at issue was actually an adopted standard subject to an obligation (e.g., not an expired draft or request for comment), (ii) the patented technology was incorporated into the standard (e.g., the patent claims actually are “essential” to the standard), and (iii) the accused products actually implement the standard and patented technology. The latter requirement — e.g., show that the accused products implement the patented technology within the standard — can be particularly problematic, because accused infringer’s generally deny infringement (usually a first line of defense) and are reluctant to undermine that defense by arguing that the claims read onto their product in order to support a lower priority defense, such as the standard essential patent defenses raised here.
The decision also provides incremental insight into common equitable defenses raised in standard essential patent cases: laches, equitable estoppel, implied waiver, and implied license. In this case, the circumstances that lead to a failure to establish breach of an expressed standard setting commitment also doomed the equitable defenses as well. Perhaps this is not too surprising, because equity generally does not step-in when there is an adequate remedy at law–e.g., enforcement of a contractual obligation that sets the rights, obligations and expectations of the parties. This further bolsters the importance of the language used in the specific standard setting IPR policy and specific patent owner commitment at issue when determining rights and obligations under standard essential patents subject to a standard setting obligation.