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Unwired Planet v Huawei [2020] UKSC 37: The UK Supreme Court Declared Competence to Determine Global FRAND Licensing Rate

 

  1. Background

The UK Supreme Court delivered the landmark judgment on Unwired Planet v Huawei and Conversant v Huawei and ZTE, [2020] UKSC 37 on 26 Aug 2020. In 2014, the US company Unwired Planet sued Huawei and other smartphone manufacturers for infringing its UK patents obtained from Ericsson. Some of these patents are essential to the 2G, 3G and 4G wireless telecommunication standards set by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an international standards setting organization (SSO). Since Ericsson and Nokia are subject to various ETSI policies including patent policies, these policies continue to apply after they are acquired by Unwired Planet. The ETSI patent policy requires that holder of patents that are indispensable for the implementation of ETSI standards, referred to as standard essential patents (SEP) , must grant licence to implementers (such as the smartphone manufacturers) on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory ” (FRABD) terms. In 2017, Canadian company Conversant filed similar lawsuits against Huawei and ZTE.

Unwired Planet and Conversant proposed to grant the worldwide licence, but Huawei proposed a UK only licence. Huawei believes that the UK litigation only concerns the UK licence and the licence fees paid to resolve disputes under the UK procedure should cover only British patents and not global patents. The UK Supreme Court upheld the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments, ruling that the FRAND licence will need to be global between large multinational companies. If Huawei refuses to pay the FRAND global licence rate determined by the court, the court will issue an injunction restraining Huawei’s sale of infringing products in the UK.