The Advocate General’s conclusions in Huawei v ZTE (C‑170/13) which were published today amount to a significant departure from the very strict conditions laid down by the BGH in the Orange Book case regarding standard essential patents and anti-trust law. They also vindicate the Commission’s position which has been openly critical of Orange Book.
The Advocate General rejects the application of the rules established by the BGH in the Orange Book case, because that dispute concerned a de facto standard whereas the patent in suit concerns a standard which was agreed as part of a standardization process undertaken by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute in which both Huawei and ZTE had taken part. Huawei had agreed to provide licenses to competitors on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND).
The BGH held that the seeking of a cessation injunction by a patent holder with a dominant position, would only constitute abuse of that position if the alleged infringer had made un unconditional and binding license offer which could not be limited to cases where patent infringement had been proven. By contrast the Advocate General places the burden on the patent holder to first send a notice letter setting out not only the alleged infringement but also the terms of license offer under FRAND conditions of a type normally used. The alleged infringer could then respond with a counter-offer setting out alternative terms. The patent holder could only seek an injunction if the counter-offer were held not to be serious and to constitute a mere delaying tactic. The alleged infringer could also reserve the right to later challenge both patent validity and the existence of infringement.
If the CJEU now accepts the Advocate General’s conclusions, the rights held by owners of SEP patents under the “Orange Book Standard” will be significantly curtailed.