United States: Continental Automotive v. Avanci: Wireless SEP Licensing Presents Challenges For Automotive Industry

As new devices become wirelessly connected, the importance of fairly licensing cellular standard essential patents (SEPs) has become increasingly important. This addition of wireless connectivity into new types of products, however, has created conflicts, as new market participants face unfamiliar licensing demands rooted in historical wireless licensing practices. The complexity of this situation is highlighted by a complaint filed recently in the Northern District of California (Case No. 5:19-cv-02520), in which Continental Automotive Systems, a supplier of cellular components to car manufacturers, sued both Avanci, LLC—a company that pools and licenses cellular SEPs on behalf of member companies—along with some of Avanci’s member companies. In its complaint, Continental alleged that Avanci, when acting on behalf of its member companies, breached FRAND commitments for the SEPs that it was offering to license. Interestingly, some of Continental’s complaints relate to the issues decided in the FTC v. Qualcomm case, which was recently tried before Judge Koh in the Northern District of California.

Continental’s Allegations of Breach of FRAND Commitments

According to Continental’s complaint, Continental is a Tier 1 supplier for the automotive industry. Tier 1 suppliers like Continental supply devices with wireless connectivity, such as telematic control units (TCUs), to automotive manufacturers. A TCU provides safety and infotainment services to drivers, and will often use wireless networks when providing these services (for example, to automatically report an accident). Inside the TCU is a network access device (NAD), which Continental purchases from Tier 2 suppliers. As Continental describes it, the NAD in turn includes a baseband chip that the Tier 2 supplier purchases from what Continental refers to as Tier 3 suppliers. According to Continental’s complaint, it is this baseband chip that provides the wireless functionality implicated by Avanci’s SEPs.

Continental alleges that Avanci first sought to license patents directly to car manufacturer customers in 2017. In early 2018, Continental itself sought a license from Avanci, but was apparently informed that Avanci exclusively licenses car manufacturers. According to Continental, Avanci would not license directly the Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 suppliers. In this way, by attempting to license only the automobile (i.e., the end product), Avanci was adopting traditional cellular licensing practices, in which the “end user” cell phone was the licensed product (as opposed to the cellular chipset). Continental alleges that, by dealing exclusively with car manufacturers, Avanci is attempting to extract (and has extracted) exorbitant royalties for the patents it licenses. In particular, Continental argues that given the cost of automobiles (i.e., thousands of dollars), by basing its licensing demand on that higher-priced end product, Avanci can charge a much larger license fee per vehicle than if the much lower-cost TCU or baseband chip were the product that was licensed. Specifically, Continental alleges that Avanci charges a flat license fee of $15 per vehicle. But Continental contends that the device that actually provides the cellular functionality is a baseband chip that costs only $20. Thus, if the baseband chip was the licensed product, Avanci’s royalty rate would be 75% of its price. A TCU sold by Continental costs approximately $75. This means that a $15 license fee per unit on that device would result in a 20% royalty rate. On this basis, Continental alleges Avanci’s licensing program is not fair or reasonable given these facts and the fact that (1) Avanci licenses only a subset of all the cellular patents and (2) the TCU includes significantly more functionality than the cellular functionality being licensed. According to Continental, “such indemnity costs are disproportionate to Tier 1 suppliers’ margins and expose them, including Continental, to potentially ruinous liability.”

Implications

This case illustrates an early example of the complexities involved when patent owners attempt to license cellular SEPs for products that are not traditionally thought of as cellular products—such as cars. And it highlights how the concerns expressed recently by Judge Koh in the Qualcomm case about Qualcomm licensing only the end-user cellular device can create market problems.

It remains to be seen how these issues will play out in non-cellular industries, like the automotive industry. For these industries, questions will likely be raised about identifying the appropriate base product for a potential license for cellular SEPs (e.g., the cars, the TCUs or the baseband chips), and whether the final usage of technology (e.g., in an automobile) can result in an increase in FRAND rate. The Continental case may provide insight into the complexity of FRAND when new industries face SEP licensing demands that have not been presented before and may be one worth watching.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions