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Four of Numerous Flaws of Proposed EU SEP Regulation are Illustrated by OPPO's Swedish Victory Over Nokia: Binary Register Won't Reflect Non-binary World, and Jurisdictional Differences Matter

IPR Daily

2023-09-18 15:05:59

The two SEPs in question were deemed invalid by the Swedish court, which was a major win for OPPO, but Nokia had obtained and enforced a German injunction over them. Due to Germany's bifurcation system, the infringement ruling came down prior to the resolution of a parallel nullity action. Nokia had also successfully asserted those patents against OPPO in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, two jurisdictions where a full invalidity defense is available. Nevertheless, the four-judge panel in Sweden made its own decision and begged to differ from their colleagues in a couple of other countries.

Let's briefly look at this from the EU SEP Reg angle--actually, from four angles related to that ill-conceived legislative proposal:

If the EU SEP Reg was already in force, and if the envisaged SEP Register had been implemented, those two patents would have to be removed from the register if Nokia made a request pursuant to Art. 25(1)(b): "invalidation of the patent by a competent authority" (which the Swedish Patent & Market Court undoubtedly is).

The proposal does not say anything about how to resolve conflicting decisions from different jurisdictions.

As a result, Nokia would be allowed to enforce those patents without having to comply with any of the provisions of the EU SEP Reg. Simply put, those patents would be treated as a non-SEPs with a view to the regulation, though national courts might nonetheless apply Huawei v. ZTE. The patent holder might consider that flexibility gain to far outweigh the negative effect of a lower essentiality rate and reduced number of declared-essential patents. Here, with Nokia having a huge SEP portfolio, the removal of a couple of patents from the database wouldn't adversely impact the overall valuation of the relevant portfolio.

The fact that the Swedish decision differs from the ones in the UK and the Netherlands, and from the probability assessment of the Mannheim Regional Court, doesn't make it necessarily wrong. But it clearly cannot be ruled out that a Swedish appeals court might overrule the Patent and Market Court, given that some other judges have also deemed those patents valid. I personally believe the Swedish decision is very well-reasoned and other jurisdictions should be persuaded by it, but you don't know until they have all decided. Assuming only for the sake of the argument that the decision was reversed, the EU SEP Reg--based on the current proposal--would not even have a mechanism in place for putting those two patents back.

When criticizing the EU SEP Reg, I've said repeatedly that the outcome of essentiality checks can depend on what jurisdiction's claim construction and other legal standards are applied. The proposal does not specify that, and there is no uniform standard across the EU. The Swedish decision was based on validity, and an invalid patent is by definition non-essential. What happened here can also happen in connection with an infringement analysis. The starting point is always claim construction. And after that one, there are other steps that can differ between countries.

It doesn't make sense to assume that a patent is essential or not. It's not binary. It may be essential in some jurisdictions and non-essential in others.

While I agree with the criticism voiced by one of the researchers commissioned by the EC's Directorate-General for the Internal Market, Dr. Justus Baron, of the aggregate royalty determination part of the proposal, Dr. Baron and I have expressed different views on whether jurisdictional differences make a practical difference for the envisioned essentiality checks of samples of patents. The fact that a Swedish court invalidated two SEPs deemed valid in a couple of other European jurisdictions supports my view that jurisdictional differences pose a confidence problem: you need even larger samples then, and even the assessment of all patents of a given portfolio may be unacceptably unreliable if each European patent is analyzed under only one jurisdiction's standard while in litigation you may get one outcome in the Netherlands and another in Sweden.

At a recent SEP conference in Warsaw, Bardehle Pagenberg's Professor Tilman Mueller-Stoy ("Müller-Stoy" in German) said something I also mentioned in the post I just linked to: essentiality determinations are not too meaningful if validity isn't analyzed as well. The Swedish Nokia v. OPPO situation is now the latest example.

An EU proposal that treats a dynamic environment as static and a non-binary world as binary is not going to do any good. It's going to be a waste. The courts of law may in the end not be persuaded that the EU's essentiality checks, essentiality ratios, aggregate royalty rates, and bilateral FRAND determinations are relevant or helpful. If something flies in the face of what the real experts (as opposed to those who drafted the proposal) know, the actual decision makers may mimimize the impact of the EU SEP Reg, just like the 2021 patent injunction "reform" in Germany has made no real-world impact.

Source:fosspatents.com-Dennis Crouch

Editor: IPR Daily-Horace

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