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Daimler, Nokia dispute referred to European Court of Justice

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DUESSELDORF — A German court on Thursday referred a patent licensing dispute between Daimler and the Finnish telecoms equipment maker Nokia to the European Court of Justice to clarify the law as it applies to supply chains.

The Duesseldorf Regional Court said it would suspend proceedings in Nokia’s fight against Daimler over royalties for technology used in navigation systems, vehicle communications and self-driving cars.

The long-running row revolves around standard technologies used in 4G mobile networks that support features in connected cars, and whether Nokia is licensing them on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

The dispute has created interest in Brussels, where the European Commission has stepped in with a proposal for a mechanism to establish whether certain patents are essential to a technology standard and reduce “friction” over their use.

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Nokia has argued that it has discretion to determine the point in the supply chain at which it issues licenses, the Duesseldorf court said, explaining Thursday’s ruling.

Daimler has countered that, under European Union single market rules, Nokia is obliged to offer unlimited licenses for all uses relating to standard patents.

In its ruling, the court found Nokia had the right to seek an injunction against Daimler for patent violation. But it also raised the question over whether doing so would represent an abuse of Nokia’s dominant market position.

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It suspended proceedings pending clarification of a list of related questions it put to the European Court.

The referral of the case to Luxembourg effectively freezes the status quo in which Daimler uses Nokia’s patents for free – a blow to the Finnish company that earns 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion) a year from licenses.

Thursday’s judgment can be appealed.

“Daimler has been using Nokia’s technology for 14 years and have looked for every avenue to avoid payment. In light of today’s decision, we will now consider our options,” Nokia said in a statement.

The automaker welcomed the Duesseldorf court’s referral, saying it would make it possible to clarify questions on standard essential patents “on a fundamental and Europe-wide level.”

The Duesseldorf case is one of several between Nokia and Daimler that are working their way through German courts – a typical feature of patent litigation as parties seek a ruling that can establish a favorable precedent.

With the latest decision, Daimler has pulled level with Nokia on two wins each.

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