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Landmark decision for telecoms IP case

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Unwired Planet and Conversant Wireless have won intellectual property (IP) cases after appeals lodged by Huawei and ZTE were dismissed.

The two cases, Unwired Planet v Huawei and Conversant Wireless v Huawei and ZTE, were the subject of a joint hearing before the Supreme Court (pictured) in October 2019.  Both concerned the licensing of patents deemed “essential to the international standards for 2G, 3G and 4G mobile telecommunications”, namely Standard Essential Patents (SEPs). 

In addition, Apple, Ericsson and Qualcomm were permitted to intervene in the appeals. 

Representing Unwired and Conversant, British IP law firm EIP said going forward the principles decided by the Supreme Court would be “highly impactful for the global licensing of telecoms standards”, including 5G technology. 

Gary Moss, head of EIP Legal, said:  “We and our clients have faced significant pressures along the way, including opponents with significant resources who have thrown everything at us in an attempt to deflect our clients from securing the relief to which they were entitled.  

“Many in the industry thought that what we were attempting was crazy and hopeless.  But we and our clients have held firm; along the way we have gone through 12 major trials and appeals and innumerable interim court hearings.  We always believed in our clients’ case and seven years later we are delighted to have our belief endorsed by the Supreme Court,” Moss continued.

The ruling upheld the previous decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal. Firstly, that in appropriate circumstances, UK courts do have the power to require that a company, which intends to implement standard technology in the UK, enters into a worldwide portfolio licence of a patent holder’s SEPs; and, secondly, that the UK is an appropriate forum in which to determine those disputes.

Conversant Wireless’s CEO, Boris Teksler, said: “We are obviously extremely pleased at the decision of the UK Supreme Court on a topic fundamental to how IP is licensed in the Telecoms sector. The decision reflects the court’s deep understanding of the issues that affect our sector and encourages us to drive this industry forward.”

The most immediate effect of the decision, handed down today (26 August), will be that Huawei will need to enter into a licence with Unwired Planet which the UK Patents Court previously decided was fair and reasonable; should it fail to do so then it will risk being subject to an injunction restraining its further activities in the UK.

A spokesperson from Unwired Planet said in a statement: “Unwired Planet and its other PanOptis related companies believe that global licensing is the most efficient and effective solution for both licensors and licensees. We look forward to continue working with other manufacturers to offer licenses to our patents under this global FRAND framework and conclude negotiations in a timely manner.

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