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OPPO Wins in Swedish Court as Two of Nokia's Standard-essential Patents

Post Time:2023-09-18 Source:fosspatents Author:Florian Mueller Views:

More than two years have passed since Nokia sued OPPO, and more than one year since OPPO was forced out of the German market by the enforcement of various patent injunctions, at least some of which were dubious from the beginning. Nokia still doesn't have leverage over OPPO. In the foreseeable future, there will be only one FRAND determination in place between these parties, and that one will be made by a court in Chongqing, China.

In the first part of this post I have an update on the Swedish part of the earth-spanning set of disputes. Subsequently I'll also discuss the UK situation, which is pretty good for OPPO in practical terms.

In June 2022, it became known that Nokia filed complaints in Finland and Sweden over two patents from the same patent family: EP2981103 and EP3220562, both on an "allocation of preamble sequences." For the avoidance of doubt, Nokia asserted both patents in both jurisdictions.

Over those patents, Nokia won its first standard-essential patent (SEP) injunction against OPPO in Mannheim last year. The Mannheim Regional Court interestingly agreed with Nokia that it was un-FRAND-ly for OPPO to offer a lump-sum royalty, but the same Nokia took the very opposite position later in a UK litigation where it argued that only a lump-sum was acceptable.

In retrospect the Mannheim rulings against OPPO appear more questionable than ever. In July, a French court invalidated two Nokia patents, one of which is a non-SEP that I considered very clearly invalid, but over which the Mannheim court nevertheless granted an injunction (which its appeals court, the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court, inexplicably allowed to be enforced).

The Swedish Patent and Market Court declared the two SEPs underlying the June 2022 injunction--EP'103 and EP'562--invalid with respect to its juridiction (Sweden). And it even did so on three independent grounds relating to partly different claims:

The original patent applications lacked support for the combination of cyclic interpretation and the second embodiment described iin the specification. Therefore, claim 1 of EP'103 and claim 4 of EP'562 were deemed to contain impermissibly added subject matter.

Either patent's claim 1 is a device claim with method features, but those method features do not affect the properties or the configuration of the device, which is why the court found they must be disregarded in the novelty analysis. As a result, the patents are invalid based on anticipation.

Claim 8 of EP'103 and claim 9 of EP'562 are independent method claims, but the Swedish court found them to cover a purely intellectual aact (as opposed to performing a specific technical function).

To be fair, the Mannheim court was not alone in siding with Nokia over those two SEPs. A Dutch court and a UK court did so, too. But now there is a very well-reasoned pair of rulings from the Swedish Patent and Market Court that states three reasons for invalidation when any single one of them would have been sufficient. It remains to be seen whether those patents will at some point be invalidated elsewhere.

EP'103 and EP'562 are now going to be harder for Nokia to enforce, as there is a possibility of courts in other jurisdictions being persuaded by the Swedish court's reasoning. This shows that Nokia is paying a significant price for its protracted dispute with OPPO.

Not only is this becoming ever more costly (including hard-to-quantify costs such as the invalidation of key patents) but the question of the "end game" must be asked as well. At this point it appears that the key jurisdiction is going to be China. That's because the Chongqing court's FRAND determination will be made soon, and while the Chongqing decision cannot be enforced during an appeal, it will most likely become enforceable prior to any other FRAND determination anywhere in the world that Nokia could point to.

I have now obtained copies of Mr Justice Richard Meade's latest Nokia v. OPPO decisions relating to remedies. He's given the topic a lot of thought and arrived at a position somewhere in the middle between the two parties' views:

While Nokia technically has a UK SEP injunction against OPPO now (based on Mr Justice Meade's application of existing appellate case law in the UK), that one has been stayed pending OPPO's appeal. The balance of hardships weighed against forcing OPPO out of the UK market the way it was forced out of the German market last year.

A very interesting question in that appeal is whether OPPO's willingness to take a license on whatever terms are in fact FRAND, but based on the upcoming Chongqing rate-setting decision, is a sufficient basis for not enjoining OPPO in the UK. A second point is that OPPO argues it actually already has a license under French law (based on Nokia's ETSI FRAND pledge), just that the exact financial terms have not been set. That argument had also been made by Xiaomi in the dispute with Philips. The question about whether OPPO is a willing licensee based on its commitment to take a license on the terms to be decided in Chongqing appears more likely to succeed as far as I can tell. And Mr Justice Meade takes that question seriously enough that he even authorized "leapfrogging" over the Court of Appeal and going straight to the UK Supreme Court (a decision that also has to do with the Optis v. Apple dispute, where the UKSC accepted to hear an appeal by Apple).

It's interesting how the parties' perspectives have changed in both Nokia v. OPPO and Optis v. Apple. The plaintiffs brought their UK actions because they hoped to be able to force the defendant into a global portfolio license on terms that would be reasonably attractive to the respective right holder. But after the actual FRAND determination was made in Optis v. Apple, and also in light of the prior InterDigital v. Lenovo decision by Mr Justice James Mellor, it's now actually the defendants who are more interested in taking a global license on UK-determined terms than the plaintiffs are in granting one. As a result, OPPO would actually be quite happy now to get a UK FRAND decision, but Nokia would rather wait.

Mr Justice Meade already had everything set to hold the UK FRAND trial in a few weeks' time. The parties have obviously already made quite an effort preparing for that trial. But all things considered, including that the FRAND terms to be decided there would presumably not result in a near-term license agreement and would become known close to the end of the relevant license period (which is mid-2021 to mid-2024), he decided to stay that trial.

Time will tell whether it was the right decision on Nokia's part to request a stay of the UK FRAND trial. While perfectly understandable in light of the recent outcomes in InterDigital v. Lenovo and Optis v. Apple, that tactical decision now enables OPPO to argue that it was quite willing to obtain useful guidance from the UK court.

Nokia can enforce a UK non-SEP injunction, but OPPO will apparently just work around it, rendering that Nokia win inconsequential in practical terms.

Again, I have great respect for Mr Justice Meade's thoughtful approach and balanced decisions. The question is not whether any of the parties or I would agree 100%. On this set of issues, you may get as many opinions as the number of people you ask. But this judge tried to be fair, and the outcome is a nuanced one.

If Nokia doesn't have a strategy that is likely to give it decisive leverage over OPPO (interim payments etc. are just symbolic), it should try to settle this dispute. OPPO has surprised a lot of people, including me, with its determined and sophisticated defense. At some point the U.S. also pulled out of Vietnam.