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Anti-Suit Injunction Issued in China: Comity, Pragmatism and Rule of Law

1 Anti-suit Injunctions issued in Huawei v Conversant and Xiaomi v Intel Digital

Chinese courts have issued two anti-suit injunctions recently in cross-border patent cases. The first is the Supreme Court’s ruling in Huawei v Conversant, (2019) Zui Gao Fa Zhi Min Zhong 732, 733 and 734 No 1. (here) Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant brought an action on 25 Jan 2018 in Jiangsu Nanjing Intermediate Court requiring determination of FRAND royalty for all Chinese patents held by Conversant that is essential to 2G, 3G and 4G standard (standard essential patent or ‘SEP’). Conversant brought another action in Düsseldorf, Germany on 20 April 2018 claiming Huawei infringed its German patents of the same patent family. On 16 Sept 2019, the Chinese court ordered a relatively low rate pursuant to Chinese standard and Conversant appealed to the Supreme Court on 18 Nov 2019. On 27 Aug 2020, the German Court held Huawei liable and approved the FRAND fee proposed by Conversant, which is 18.3 times of the rate determined by the Chinese court. Pursuant to Huawei’s application, the Chinese Supreme Court restrained Conversant from applying the German court to enforce the German judgment. The reasons include: the enforcement of the Düsseldorf judgment would have a negative impact on the case pending in Chinese court; an injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to Huawei; the damage to Conversant by granting the injunction is significantly smaller than the damage to Huawei if not granting injunction; injunction will not harm public interest or international comity.

On 9 June 2020, Chinese company Xiaomi brought the proceedings in the Wuhan Intermediate Court requesting the determination of the global FRAND rate for SEPs held by the US company, Inter Digital. On 29 July, Intel Digital sued Xiaomi in Delhi High Court in India for infringement of Indian patents of the same patent family and asking for injunction. The Wuhan Intermediate Court ordered Inter Digital to stop the injunction application in India and prohibited Intel Digital from applying injunctions, applying for the determination of FRAND rate or enforcing junctions already received in any countries. (Xiaomi v Intel Digital (2020) E 01 Zhi Min Chu 169 No 1) The court provides reasons as follows: Inter Digital intentionally brought a conflicting action in India to hamper the Chinese proceedings; the Indian proceedings may lead to judgments irreconcilable to the Chinese one; an anti-suit injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to Xiaomi’s interests; an anti-suit injunction will not harm Intel Digital’s legitimate interests or public interests.

2 Innovative Judicial ‘Law Making’ to Transplant Foreign Law

These two cases are interesting in that they open the door for the courts to ‘make law’ by providing Chinese legislation innovative interpretation. Chinese law does not explicitly permit the courts to issue anti-suit or anti-arbitration injunctions. Article 100 of the Civil Procedure Law of China permits Chinese courts to order or prohibit the respondent to do, or from doing, certain actions, if the respondent’s behaviour may lead to the difficulty to enforce the judgment or cause other damages to the other party. But this act preservation provision was generally used only in the preservation of property, injunction of infringing actions, or other circumstances where the respondent’s action may directly cause substantive harm to the applicant’s personal or proprietary rights. It was never applied as the equivalent to anti-suit injunctions. The ‘Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in Cases Involving the Review of Act Preservation in Intellectual Property Disputes’ (No. 21 [2018] of the Supreme People’s Court) enforced from 1 Jan 2019 did not mention the court’s competence to issue anti-suit injunction. These two judgments provide innovative interpretation to Art 100 by extending act preservation measures to cover anti-suit injunction.

It is important to note that anti-suit injunction is a controversial instrument used to combat the conflict of jurisdiction and forum shopping. It is not issued frequently or lightly. Instead, there is a high threshold to cross. In England, for example, an anti-suit injunction can be ordered only if the foreign proceedings are vexatious or oppressive and England is the natural forum, (Airbus Industrie GIE v Patel [1999] AC 119) or the foreign proceedings would breach a valid exclusive jurisdiction or arbitration clause between the parties. (The “Angelic Grace”, [1995] 1 Lloyd’s Rep. 87) In both cases, neither courts justify China is a natural forum. Such justification may be more difficult in disputes concerning foreign patent due to the territoriality of patent.  Furthermore, foreign proceedings are not oppressive just because they award higher rate to the parent holder, which is not properly handled either by the Chinese judgments. In the US, anti-suit injunction requires the parties and issues in foreign proceedings are ‘the same’ as the local ones. (E. & J. Gallo Winery v. Andina Licores SA, 446 F. 3d 984 (Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2006)) This barrier is difficult to lift in disputes concerning infringement of national patents in the same family. In FRAND cases, the court usually relies on the ‘contractual umbrella over the patent’ to avoid the difficulty brought by the territoriality of patent. (Huawei v Samsung, Case No. 3:16-cv-02787-WHO) Even if a contractual approach is adopted, the court still needs to ascertain the foreign litigation may frustrate a local policy, would be vexatious or oppressive, would threaten the U.S. court’s in rem jurisdiction, or would prejudice other equitable considerations. (Zapata Off-Shore Company v. Unterweser Reederei GMBH, 428 F.2d 888 (United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, 1970))

The Chinese judgments show clear sign of borrowing the common law tests. In particular, the Huawei v Conversant judgment has high similarity with Huawei v Samsung judgment rendered by the California Northern District Court. The problem is the enjoined Düsseldorf judgment awarded FRAND rate instead of an unconditional injunction like the Shenzhen judgment. While enforcing a permanent injunction in the biggest market of Samsung may lead to a forced settlement which would make the US proceedings unnecessary or redundant, enforcing the court determined FRAND rate covering only one state may not have the same effect on the Chinese proceedings. In particular, due to different standards to calculate the FRAND rate, a higher rate covering the German market is not oppressive and would not result in a forced settlement for Chinese FRAND rate. The Wuhan judgment focuses on the vexatious foreign proceedings brought in bad faith and abuse of process. The Wuhan court considers the Indian proceedings was brought to frustrate the pending proceedings before the Wuhan court. The judgment seems to follow the English trait. However, the court did not fully explain how an action purely covering Indian patents and concerning Indian market would affect the Chinese proceedings based on contract. It is also unclear whether Chinese court could award a global FRAND rate as the English court will do. Although in contrast to many other judgments, these two judgments show reasonable quality and laudable efforts of reasoning, reading in details may suggest the courts have learnt more in form instead of substance. The judicial transplant of very unfamiliar common law instruments into Chinese practice seems a little awkward and immature.

3 Comity, Pragmatism and Rule of Law

Anti-suit injunction is a controversial instrument in that it may infringe foreign judicial sovereignty and comity. Even if it is technically directed to the respondent not a foreign court, it makes judgment on the appropriateness of foreign proceedings, which, in normal circumstances, should be judged by the foreign court. No matter how indirect the interference is, an interference is there. Such an approach is fundamentally incompatible with Chinese jurisprudence and diplomatic policy, which emphasise on the principle of sovereign equality and non-interference. China usually considers parallel proceedings tolerable which concern the judicial sovereignty of two countries and each could continue jurisdiction pursuant to their domestic law. (Art 533 of Civil Procedural Law Judicial Interpretation by SPC) Adopting anti-suit injunction to tackle foreign parallel proceedings or related proceedings directly contradicts this provision.

Since Chinese courts would not deviate from the central government’s policy, the two judgments may be a sign to show China is gradually adjusting its international policy from self-restraint to zealous competition, at least in the high-tech area. This is consistent with China’s strategic plan to develop its high-tech industry and a series of reform is adopted to improve IP adjudication. It may imply consideration of diffused reciprocity, i.e. since some foreign courts may issue anti-suit injunction to obstruct Chinese proceedings, Chinese courts should have the same power. It may also reflects China’s increased confidence on its institutions led by its economic power. The transplant of anti-suit injunction cannot be deemed as admiring foreign law, but a pragmatic approach to use any tools available to achieve their aims. Since anti-suit injunctions may interfere a state’s sovereignty, a foreign state may issue ‘anti-anti-suit injunction’ to block it. While injunction wars occur in high-tech cases, the final trump card should be a country’s economic power. Since China is the biggest market for many telecom products, it would be the last market that most companies would give up, which would provide Chinese courts a privilege.

Finally, since anti-suit injunction is not included explicitly in Chinese law, there is no consistent test applying to it. The two judgments have applied different tests following the practice from different common law countries. It is also noted that the lack of relevant training in exercise discretion in issuing anti-suit injunctions or applying precedents leads to uncertainty and some discrepancy. Issuing anti-suit injunction is serious in that it may affect comity and international relation. It thus cannot be adopted randomly or flexibly by mirroring one or two foreign judgments. If China indeed wants to adopt anti-suit injunction, a test guidance should be provided. Anti-suit injunction needs to be issued under the rule of law.








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.

  1. Legal Issues

The Supreme Court answers five legal questions: 1. Does the English court have the power or jurisdiction without the parties’ agreement to require the parties to enter into a global licence under a multinational patent portfolio? 2. Is England the proper forum for such a claim? 3. What is the meaning and effect of the non-discrimination component of the FRAND undertaking? 4. Does the CJEU’s decision in Huawei v ZTE mean that a SEP owner is entitled to seek an injunction restraining infringement of those SEPs in circumstances such as those of the Unwired case? 5. Should Court grant damages in lieu of an injunction?

Given our focus on private international law, this note only focuses on the private international law related issue, namely the English court’s “long arm” jurisdiction to grant a global licence for dispute concerning the infringement of the UK patent and to issue an injunction if the global licence rate is not complied.


  1. Territoriality of Patents and Globalisation of Telecommunication

Telecommunication industry faces the conflict between territoriality of patents and globalisation of telecom products and equipment. Products made in different countries should be able to communicate and inter-operate and keep operational in different jurisdictions. It would be unrealistic to require patent holders to defend their patent country by country. It is also harmful to the industry if SEP holders demand unreasonable licence fees and prohibit the use of its invention within a national jurisdiction. It is unreasonable for consumers if they cannot use their mobiles smartphones or other telecom devices when travel abroad. To reconcile the conflict, the ETSI policy requires the SEP holders to irrevocably license their SEP portfolios on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (“FRAND”) terms. The policy reconciles conflict of interest between SEP holders and SEP implementers but does not, at least directly, resolve the conflict between territoriality and globalisation. In terms of the later, the industry practice shows that multinational SEP holders and implementers usually negotiate worldwide licences, bearing in mind that the SEP holders and implementers cannot test validity of each patent of the portfolio in each country. The licence rate is thus based on the understanding that some patents may be invalid in some countries.

The Supreme Court confirmed the territoriality principle. English court only has jurisdiction to determine validity and infringement of the UK patent. But the English court, based on the jurisdiction on the UK patent, has the competence to grant a global licence rate.

This judgment includes a few private international law matters. Firstly, the granting of global licence rate is a matter in relation to applicable law instead of jurisdiction from the private international law perspective. The case concerns the infringement and validity of the UK patents and the English court has no problem to take jurisdiction. After ruling the defendant indeed infringed the valid UK patents the English court moved to remedy. The remedy to the infringement of SEPs is the grant of FRAND rate pursuant to the ETSI policy and industry practice. This, however, does not mean the English court directly treats business custom or ETSI policy as the governing law, which, standing alone, may not be able to acquire the status as other non-state norms under the current legal framework. (Rome I Regulation) They are applied pursuant to the contract principle. The judgment heavily relies on the ETSI policy, including its language and purpose. The court concludes that the ETSI policy creates a contractual arrangement between SEP holders and implementers and it is the intention of the policy to grant global licences for SEP portfolios taking into account of industry practices and the purpose. English courts’ power to determine a global FRAND licence rate is inherently consistent with the ETSI policy, given there is no alternative international forum available. There is no much consideration of any choice of law rules, except the clarification that the ETSI policy was governed by French law. The court nevertheless does not consider the French law principle in interpreting contracts. Instead, the court naturally applies these non-state norms as part of the contract between the parties. Relying on contract to seise the power to determine the global rate helps the court to avoid the necessity to determine the validity of foreign patents of the same patent family.

The Supreme Court also considered the forum non conveniens in Conversant case (forum non conveniens was not plead in Unwired Planet). The court refused to accept that China would be the more appropriate alternative forum. Although 64% of Huawei’s sales occur in China and only 1% in the UK and 60% of the ZTE’s operating revenue in the first six months of 2017 was from China and only 0.07% from the UK, the Supreme court held that Chinese courts might not assume jurisdiction to determine the global FRAND term. It seems possible that if China, or any other country, which maybe the most important global market for the disputed patents, follows the UK approach to grant global licence for SEP portfolios, the English court may apply forum non conveniens to decline jurisdiction. In fact, Chinese law does not prevent a Chinese court from issuing licence with broader territorial coverage, though there is not yet any case on this matter. The “Working Guidance for Trial of SEP disputes by the Guangdong Province Higher People’s Court (for Trial Implementation)” of 2018 provides in Art 16 that if the SEP holder or implementer unilaterally applies for the licence covering areas exceeding the court’s territory, and the other party does not expressly oppose or the opposition is unreasonable, the court could determine the applied licence rate with broader geographic coverage.

A more controversial point of the judgment is that the Supreme Court concludes that the ESTI policy would allow the court to issue injunction if the implementer refuses to pay the global licence rate. It is important to know that the ESTI policy does not expressly state such an effect. The UK court believes that an injunction would serve as a strong incentive for the patentee to accept a global licence. Damages, on the other hand, may encourage implementers to infringe patents until damages are applied and received in each jurisdiction. This conclusion is rather surprising as the injunction of SEPs in one jurisdiction may have the potential to disturb the whole telecommunication market for the given manufacturer. There is even argument that the purpose of ESTI is to prohibit injunction for SEPs (here; and here) The use of injunction may not “balance” the conflicting interests, but significantly favours the SEP holders to the disadvantage of the implementers

  1. Forum Shopping and Conflict of Jurisdiction

It is important to note that regardless of the current geopolitical tension between the US and China, the UK Supreme Court’s judgment should not be interpreted as one that has taken the political stance against China’s High-Tech companies. (here) It upholds the judgments of the lower courts dated back to 2017. It is also consistent with the principle of judicial efficiency, protection of innovation and business efficacy. Although the final result protects the patent holders more than the implementers, it is hard to argue anything wrong in terms of policy. Furthermore, since Huawei and Unwired Planet had already settled and the rate set by the court had been paid, this judgment will not result in additional payment obligations or an injunction. (here) Finally, although Huawei lost this case as the implementer, Huawei is also the biggest 5G SEP holder. Pursuant to this judgment, although Huawei has been banned from the UK’s 5G network, it can still require other 5G implementers for a global FRAND licence rate and apply for injunction upon a refusal.

If there is any political drive, it may be the intention to become an international litigation centre for patent disputes after Brexit. This judgment allows the English court jurisdiction to determine a global licence rate simply based on the infringement of a UK patent, no matter how small the UK market is. The one-stop solution available in the English court would be particularly welcome by patent holders, especially SEP holders, who would no longer need to prove validity in each jurisdiction. This judgment also enhances the negotiation power of the SEP holders versus implementers. It is likely that more FRAND litigation would be brought to the UK.

On the other hand, some implementers may decide to give up the UK market, especially those with small market share in the UK. Some companies may decide to accept the injunction instead of paying high global licence rate. This may also suggest that the UK consumers may find it slower and more expensive to access to some high-tech products.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s judgment does not depend on any unique domestic legislation but the ETSI contractual arrangement which applies to its members and the industry practice and custom. There is no barrier for other countries, including China, to follow the same reasoning.  It is possible many other countries may, fully or partly, follow this judgment. If the courts of multiple countries can set the global FRAND rate and they apply different standards to set this rate, forum shopping and conflict of jurisdictions may be inevitable. Anti-suit injunction and anti-enforcement injunction may be more frequently applied and issued. The China Supreme Court IP Tribunal recently restrained the Conversant from applying the German court to enforce the German judgment in a related case, which awards Conversant the FRAND rate 18.3 times of the rate awarded by the Chinese courts on the infringement of the Chinese patents of the same family. This is called act preservation in China with the similar function as the anti-enforcement injunction. ((2019) Supreme Court IP Tribunal Final One of No 732, 733 and 734) This case suggests Chinese courts would be ready to issue the similar act preservation order or injunction to prevent the other party from enforcing a global FRAND rate set by the foreign court against the Chinese implementers, whether or not Chinese court could issue the global FRAND licence. The long term impact of the Unwired Planet v Huawei may be the severer competition in jurisdiction between different courts which may require reconciliation either through judicial cooperation arrangement or through the establishment of a global tribunal by the relevant standard setting organisation.