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Intellectual Ventures ends biggest patent battle in Germany without a win

Post Time:2024-04-24 Source:juve-patent Author:Mathieu Klos Views:

Intellectual Ventures and the three major network operators Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica/O2 and Vodafone have settled their long-running dispute over mobile communications standards. After nine years, one of the biggest patent battles in Germany is over.

In 2015, the US-based non-practicing entity Intellectual Ventures sued the three major German network operators, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica/O2 and Vodafone for the first time at the Mannheim, Munich and Düsseldorf regional courts. Further lawsuits followed, with 16 patents said to have been sued against each of the three providers. In addition, individual PI proceedings also took place.

Intellectual Ventures sued each of the three providers over the same 16 patents. All concerned LTE, DSL and WCDMA technology, as well as infrastructure and mobile devices.

Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, and Vodafone each responded with individual nullity actions against most of the NPE’s patents. Germany’s patent courts are therefore likely to have heard between 100 and 120 proceedings during the dispute. Parties filed parallel lawsuits in France, Ireland and the US.

Lawsuits withdrawn

The NPE and the three main defendants have now apparently reached settlements in Germany. According to JUVE Patent information, Intellectual Ventures reached an agreement with Deutsche Telekom several months ago. A settlement with Vodafone followed at the beginning of 2024. As JUVE Patent has now learned, the NPE and Telefonica settled their dispute in March.

As such, parties have since withdrawn almost all lawsuits and nullity proceedings. None of the companies involved commented on the details of the agreements. As a central supplier of network technology, Huawei was also involved in all proceedings. The Chinese company has also reached an agreement with the NPE across the German and French cases.

During the dispute in Germany, multiple mobile phone manufacturers came onboard. As well as Huawei, Ericsson, HTC, Google, LG, Nokia, Wiko, ZTE, Michael Telecom AG and two further manufacturers of base stations joined the dispute at an early stage, forming a joint defence group. However, only Huawei, LG, Wiko, and Michael Telecom were officially involved as co-defendants in the proceedings.

Intellectual Ventures unsuccessful

Apparently, the parties involved on the defendant side coordinated very closely and maintained a uniform line against the NPE for years. This is despite their interests often diverging. In particular, they coordinated the arguments in the nullity actions against Intellectual Ventures’ patents, which were in part identical.

However, according to people involved, there parties did not coordinate on aspects relevant to antitrust law, such as FRAND,

Intellectual Ventures was unsuccessful in court in all approximately 60 infringement and PI proceedings. The courts either dismissed the claims for non-infringement or revoked or restricted the patents so extensively that the network operators’ infringement was no longer viable.

Finally, Intellectual Ventures no longer actively pursued its infringement claims. Essentially, the case came down to the matter of reimbursement of costs. The value in dispute (in German, ‘Steitwert’) in the infringement actions varied between €5 and €20 million.

In particular, the defendant network operators and their co-defendants wanted Intellectual Ventures to reimburse their legal fees, with individual cost assessment proceedings still active. With so many years of dispute, the total legal costs are likely to be in the tens of millions of euros.

Dispute rumbles on

In France, however, the dispute continues. Here, in 2017 Intellectual Ventures filed suits based on three patents against Orange and Bouygues Télecom after making a licence offer. The defendant brought in DSL equipment manufacturers ECI Télécom, which US-based software company Ribbon Communications took over, as well as Infineon and Lantiq as third-party defendants.

Furthermore, Huawei, Sagemcom, ZTE and Sercomm – suppliers of DSL boxes to Orange – also joined the suit as voluntary co-litigants. According to JUVE Patent research, the parties have not yet settled the French proceedings.

As recently as the end of March,the French Court of Appeal heard an appeal by Intellectual Ventures. On 21 March, the judicial panel around presiding judge Veronique Renard deliberated whether multiple parties infringed the NPE’sEP 1 694 020, as well as its validity. Huawei did not take part in the appeal hearing due to its previous global settlement.