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还想着告华为吗?当心被华为告!

Aaron Presman 2016年07月27日

多年来一直被诉的华为开始对其他公司提起专利诉讼。

面对侵犯其他公司专利的指控,中国电信设备巨擘华为公司(2016年世界500强排名第129位)用了相当多的时间在美国法庭为自己辩护。

对法院文件的回顾显示,2003年以来,至少有172件联邦专利侵权案将华为或其子公司列为被告或联合被告。这些文件同时表明,今年以前华为从未提起过联邦诉讼。

今年1月份,华为起诉美国电信运营商T-Mobile侵犯其专利,并在上周追加了诉讼。5月份华为还起诉了韩国电子行业龙头三星。

这个看似突然的战略转变由来已久。法庭文件显示,2013年华为首次通知T-Mobile,自己持有高速3G和4G无线网络传输标准相关专利,希望对方支付专利费。同时,华为至少从2013年就开始为类似行业标准专利问题和三星接触,但提交给法院的相关文件尚未公开。《财富》杂志还了解到,华为还和诺基亚就双方共同持有的专利进行了磋商。

这些高度公开的诉讼让整个行业开始猜测,这家中国电信设备龙头企业为什么最终决定要通过美国法院扳回一城呢?

许多专利界人士认为,此举是华为在美国市场大规模销售热门智能手机的前奏。华为此前在美国推出过几款手机,其中包括由谷歌负责销售的Nexus 6P。在外界看来,长期以来因专利侵权遭到起诉是华为进入美国手机市场的障碍。在这个市场,苹果等公司会毫不迟疑地把对手告上法庭。此外,以往华为向美国提供电信网络设备的努力则因为国家安全顾虑而化为泡影。

最近,华为高层开始公开谈论大举进军美国手机市场的问题。该公司副董事长胡厚崑去年12月接受《华尔街日报》采访时称:“我们已经在中国[智能手机]市场取得领先位置。我们希望在美国可以取得同样的成功。”

威嘉律师事务所专利诉讼部门联合董事长布莱恩·弗格森认为,考虑到这一点,上述诉讼有可能成为新一轮智能手机诉讼的“开幕礼炮”。

弗格森说:“华为想打进美国移动设备市场,但也知道业界龙头不会对自己表示欢迎。它并没有等着其他公司来起诉自己,看来华为打算传递的信号是,它握有专利,不会坐等成为别人的目标。”

智能手机之战

尽管多年来惹上了许多官司,但华为也亮出了自家的众多知识产权。在最近的两起诉讼中,华为都表示,自己在全球各地拥有逾5万项专利,而且仅去年就在美国申请专利1,268项。涉诉专利已经纳入手机行业标准,实际上所有手机厂商和无线通信运营商都不可能避开这些专利。

就在华为提起诉讼的当口,苹果已故CEO史蒂夫·乔布斯2010年发起的智能手机专利战似乎终于平息了下来。包括苹果、谷歌、微软和爱立信在内,大多数主要厂商都在过去几年达成了和解协议。同时,美国最高法院下次开庭时将对苹果之前起诉三星的案件中未完结的部分举行听证会。

不过,纽约法学院高级电信法与政策研究所负责人迈克尔·桑托莱利认为,华为提起的新诉讼是一个信号,它表明战火可能重燃。

桑托莱利说:“只要专利仍被视为剑和盾,并且继续用于在这个竞争激烈的领域争夺主导权,这场战斗看来就会延续下去。”

华为毫不掩饰自己进入美国手机市场的意图,不过除了那些显而易见的信息,该公司并未做过多表示。

华为负责外部事物的副总裁威廉·普拉默告诉《财富》杂志:“华为拥有的大量专利对LTE网络服务运营都很关键。协商总是最理想的途径,但在某些情况下,企业不得不通过向法院提告来保护自己的投资和知识产权。”

对于起诉的时间点,是否计划起诉其他公司,以及是否已经通过协商达成和解,华为均拒绝做出评论。《华尔街日报》上个月曾报道,华为和苹果今年就专利费达成了协议。

一些业内人士认为,上述法律纠纷和即将到来的市场推广并无关联。一位熟悉华为情况的人士透露,发生诉讼只是因为华为拿到了更多专利而其他公司拒绝支付专利费,“如果你们不想合作,我们就要强行主张自己的权利了。”

关键专利

华为于1987年在深圳成立。这座毗邻香港的城市是中国第一个经济特区,经济法规较为宽松。去年,华为公布的销售额几乎达到610亿美元(约4081亿元人民币),成为全球两大蜂窝网络设备制造商之一,移动设备销售额全球排名第三。华为的美国总部设在德州普莱诺市。

华为提起的诉讼并不是针对有争议的设计专利,或者说就像苹果用于起诉三星的某项专利,涉及一款手机的长方形机身和圆弧边角。相反,涉诉专利是华为开发的无线网络技术,目前已经成为基本行业标准的一部分。

一项专利技术被纳入基本标准前,技术所有者必须同意按“公平、合理而且非歧视”的原则进行授权。此举旨在防止某家公司阻挠竞争对手使用某项可能已经成为整个行业立足点的技术。不过,就算按照这项所谓的FRAND要求,专利所有者仍有权索取专利费。

就韩国三星而言,华为表示前者几乎所有智能手机,包括最新款的Galaxy S7,都在使用华为的技术来连接UMTS和LTE蜂窝网络。比如说,诉讼提到的一项专利通过减少手机和基站的通信量来改善手机的数据接收水平。华为在诉讼中指控三星侵犯了11项专利,另外还涉及两项可能成为专利的技术,华为已经提出申请,目前尚未公开。

面对华为的指控,三星尚未应诉。作为全球最大手机厂商,这家韩国公司的女发言人表示,三星正在“全面核实华为的主张,并将采取恰当行动来保护自己的商业利益。”

华为上周起诉T-Mobile时称,后者使用的高速无线网络标准涉及华为的几十项专利。1月份华为已经指控T-Mobile侵犯其14项专利。

T-Mobile同样尚未应诉,而且拒绝就此发表评论。2014年,该公司曾起诉华为盗窃商业机密,内容涉及可模拟人对触摸屏进行操作的智能手机检测机器人。此案仍在审理之中。

对于1月份华为提起的诉讼,T-Mobile表示华为未能具体说明自己怎样侵犯了对方的14项专利,而且自己用于建立通信网络的设备均购自第三方。上个月,作为第三方之一的诺基亚在法庭上称,它为T-Mobile提供了很多涉诉设备,并且已经开始和华为商讨专利交叉授权的可能性。

诺基亚表示,到目前为止一直未能就此达成协议。该公司向《财富》杂志提供的声明称:“华为拒绝了诺基亚迄今为止提出的所有合理解决方案。”诺基亚还认为,华为起诉电信运营商而非设备制造商的行为前所未有。

7月6日,美国治安法官罗伊·佩恩拒绝将此案交给调解人做协商和解处理。

和解可能耗时数月。同时,其他公司还得看看华为是否计划在进入美国市场前扩大司法领域的攻击范围。(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

审校:詹妮

Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei Technologies has spent considerable time in U.S. courtrooms defending itself from allegedly infringing on other companies’ patents.

Huawei or its subsidiaries have been cited as a defendant or co-defendant in at least 172 federal patent infringement cases since 2003, according to a review of court filings. But the same records showed that the company had never pressed its own federal lawsuits until this year.

In January, it filed a patent infringement case against U.S. telecommunications carrier T-Mobile , with an additional filing this week. And in May it sued Korean electronics giant Samsung.

The seemingly sudden change in strategy has been a long time coming. Huawei first notified T-Mobile in 2013 that it wanted royalty payments for patents it held related to transmission standards for high-speed 3G and 4G wireless networks, according to court filings. And it touched base with Samsung over similar industry-standard patents at least as early as 2013, although portions of that lawsuit have been filed under seal. Huawei has also had talks with Nokia over patents held by both companies, Fortune has learned.

But the highly public lawsuits have ignited speculation across the industry over why the Chinese giant has chosen finally to seek legal redress in U.S. Courts.

Many in the patent community see the move as a prelude to Huawei selling its popular smartphone handsets in the U.S. market on a large scale. Huawei has offered a few phone previously, such as the Nexus 6P sold by Google. The company’s long track record of being sued for patent infringement was thought to be a hurdle to entering the U.S. phone market, whereApple and others have not hesitated to sue rivals. And the company’s bid to supply telecom networking gear has in the past been hampered by national security concerns.

More recently, Huawei executives have openly discussed making a major phone push in the U.S. “We have already seized a leading position in the Chinese [smartphone] market,” Huawei deputy chairman Ken Hu told the Wall Street Journal in December. “We hope that in the U.S. we can achieve the same success.”

With that in mind, the Huawei lawsuits could be the “opening salvo” of a new round of smartphone litigation, Brian Ferguson, co-chair of the patent litigation practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, says.

“Huawei wants to break into the U.S. mobile device market and it knows that the industry leaders are not going to just welcome it to the party,” Ferguson says. “Rather than wait to be sued, it looks like Huawei wants to send a message that it has its own patents and will not just sit back and be a target.”

Smartphone Wars

Despite all the lawsuits against Huawei over the years, the company points to an extensive intellectual property catalog of its own. In both its recent lawsuits, Huawei says it has over 50,000 patents worldwide, including 1,268 issued in the United States just last year. The patents involved in the lawsuits have been incorporated into mobile industry standards, making it virtually impossible for any phone maker or wireless carrier to avoid them.

The lawsuits from Huawei have also arrived just as it seemed that the smartphone patent wars, kicked off by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2010, were finally winding down. Most of the major players, including Apple, Google , Microsoft , and Ericsson have reached settlements over the past few years. And the Supreme Court will hear what remains of Apple’s early suit against Samsung in its upcoming term.

Huawei’s new lawsuits are a sign, however, that the battles are likely to flare up again, according to Michael Santorelli, who heads the Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York Law School.

“It looks like it will continue to rage on so long as patents are viewed and wielded as swords and shields in the ongoing fight for supremacy in this intensely competitive space,” Santorelli says.

Huawei, which has made no secret of its plans to enter the U.S. mobile phone market, isn’t saying much itself beyond the obvious.

“Huawei owns numerous patents which are essential to the operation of LTE network services,” William Plummer, vice president for external affairs, tells Fortune. “Negotiation is always the preferred route, but, in some instances, companies are compelled to (go to) the courts to protect their investments and intellectual property.”

The company declined to comment on the timing of the lawsuits, whether it planned to sue additional companies, or if it had reached any negotiated settlements. The company struck a deal with Apple this year for patent royalties, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Some insiders reject the connection between the recent lawsuits and the coming market push. The litigation is simply due to other companies refusing to pay licensing fees as Huawei has been awarded more patents, according to one person familiar with the company. “If you don’t want to play ball, we’re going to enforce our rights,” the person said.

Essential Patents

Huawei was founded in 1987 in Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong that was the country’s first designated “special economic zone” with looser economic regulations. Last year, the company reported sales of almost $61 billion, ranking as one of the top two makers of cellular network equipment and as the world’s third-largest seller of mobile devices. Its U.S. headquarters is in Plano, Tex.

The company’s lawsuits don’t rely on controversial design patents, like one of the patents Apple wielded against Samsung that covers a phone with a rectangular shape and rounded corners. Instead, Huawei is suing over technology it developed for wireless networks that was subsequently incorporated into essential industry standards.

Before a patented technology is included in an essential standard, the owner must agree to license it on “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” terms. That’s to prevent a company from seeking to hamper rivals for use of technology that an entire industry may depend on. But even under the so-called FRAND requirement, a patent owner is still entitled to royalties.

In the case of Samsung, Huawei says virtually all of the Korean companies smartphones, including the most recent Galaxy S7 models, use its technology to connect to UMTS and LTE cellular networks. One patent cited in the lawsuit, for example, improves the rate of data flowing to a phone by reducing the amount of information the phone must communicate to a cellular base station. The lawsuit cites 11 patents that Samsung is allegedly infringing, with two additional causes for action that could be patents currently filed under seal.

Samsung has not yet filed its reply to Huawei’s lawsuit. The Korean company, the world’s largest phone maker, is “thoroughly reviewing the complaints and will take appropriate action to defend Samsung’s business interests,” a spokeswoman said.

In the T-Mobile case that Huawei filed this week, the Chinese company says it has dozens of patents that are part of the standards for high-speed wireless networks used by T-Mobile. That followed a case filed in January alleging infringement on 14 specific patents.

T-Mobile, which has not yet filed a reply in the case, declined to comment. The company sued Huawei in 2014 for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to a robot that tests smartphones by simulating a person tapping the screen. The case is still pending.

In response to the January lawsuit, T-Mobile argued that Huawei failed to say specifically how it infringed on the 14 patents and noted that it had purchased all of the equipment to build its networks from third parties. Last month, one of those third parties–Nokia–told the court that it supplied much of T-Mobile’s equipment related to the case and was already negotiating with Huawei about possibly cross-licensing patents.

Nokia says it so far been unable to strike a deal. “Huawei has refused all reasonable resolution options Nokia has offered to date,” the Finnish company said in a statement to Fortune. Huawei’s lawsuit against a telecom carrier, instead of against equipment makers, is unprecedented, Nokia said.

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roy Payne referred the case to a mediator to seek a negotiated settlement.

A settlement could take months. In the meantime, other companies will have to wait and see if Huawei plans to expand its legal attack ahead of its market attack.

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