​Nokia lawyer says patents best licensed to makers of cars, not components

28 March 2019 00:00 by Lewis Crofts

Automotive manufacturers should license patents at the level of the final car, not the makers of individual components, to ensure the end product runs all the necessary technology, a senior lawyer at Nokia said.

Daimler has made antitrust allegations over Nokia’s licensing practices, but attorney Jenni Lukander said if companies didn’t take up offers for a fair license, this didn’t necessarily amount to an antitrust breach.

Over the last decade, fights between the holder of industry standards, such as Nokia and Qualcomm, broke out with makers of mobile devices, such as Apple, over whether patent litigation tactics were abusive.

Speaking at a conference* in Washington, Lukander, senior vice president and head of patent business at Nokia, said antitrust authorities and courts had largely cleared up questions over the antitrust risks related to injunctions.

But as more devices begin connecting to the Internet, there is a debate over how these rules apply to emerging industries such as connected cars.

This boils down to whether the holder of a standard-essential patent, or SEP, is obliged to license to all comers — such as the makers of individual components — or if it should only be the maker of the final device who takes a license. That question could have a massive impact on the money spent on licensing technologies.

Lukander said it was industry practice to license at the level of the final device, because that is the only stage at which all the technologies “get fully implemented.”

She played down the differences between a smartphone and a car, stressing that modern connected cars need antennae, sensors and the ability to connect to a network.

Daimler has complained to the European Commission over Nokia’s reluctance to license to the carmaker’s component makers, saying this is an abuse of market power.

“If the SEP holder has made [fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory] offers available, and if nobody is interested in taking that, does it amount to an abuse? I don’t think so,” Lukander said.

She said “very powerful carmakers” are used to having their component suppliers handle licenses, but it was wrong to conclude that patent-holders were refusing to license.

Lukander said it was “very much the opposite,” and patent-holders often “want to grant a license but  the licensees don’t want to take it.”

The Nokia lawyer said such antitrust claims were often “part of a broader strategy” by carmakers as they litigate patents.

* American Bar Association Antitrust Section Spring Meeting 2019. Washington, DC. March 27-29, 2019.

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