A recap of the ongoing Nokia vs. Oppo patent dispute on its two-year anniversary

Nokia vs. Oppo patent War
2 years ago, in July 2021, Nokia sued BBK owned Chinese android devices maker Oppo and subsequently its affiliate OnePlus for infringing some of its 4G and 5G patents in the German courts. As of today, this patent dispute continues to escalate with both parties suing each other and initiating opposition proceedings against each-others’ patents, even the ones which were not involved in the initial dispute. So, on the second anniversary of this patent dispute, we would like to recap the major events and try to understand whether a settlement is likely to happen in the near future.

Nokia entered into a patent licensing agreement with Oppo in November 2018 covering both standard essential patents and non-SEPs. This licensing agreement expired towards mid-2021 and both the parties could not agree on the renewal terms for these licenses. As negotiations broke down, Nokia filed patent infringement lawsuit against Oppo in seven countries, including Germany, in the month of July 2021. In Germany, Nokia filed 11 lawsuits in Mannheim, 7 in Munich and another 6 lawsuits in Dusseldorf.

Oppo, in its turn, countersued Nokia, opposing many of its patents, some of which were not a part of the initial dispute. As of July 2023, there are at least 9 such patent opposition cases ongoing in German courts. Nokia subsequently also initiated patent opposition proceedings against some patents owned by Oppo in Germany and other European countries.

As time progressed, more suits and counter-suits were filed by either party across the globe, including in 19 infringement courts and revocation proceedings with PTAB.

Nokia emerged victorious in some of the lawsuits that it had filed. In June 2022, Nokia won a case in Mannheim for a non-standard essential patent related to WiFi. It further received one SEP injunction in Mannheim in July 2022 and two more SEP injunctions in Munich in August 2022. While it enjoyed victory in Germany, in July 2022 an Indonesian court dismissed 4 lawsuits that Nokia had brought against Oppo.

Oppo also counter-sued Nokia in Germany and tried to seek injunctions against their base stations. After the August 2022 decisions in Munich, Oppo decided to indefinitely exit the German market. While Germany is a big market for smartphones, Oppo held less than 10% share of the market at the time of its exit and since it became impossible for Oppo to advertise its products in Germany after the injunctions, a temporary exit seemed like the most suitable solution.  

Nokia also got a positive outcome in the Netherlands where a court ruled in its favour in September 2022 regarding the ae patents that received the injunction in Mannheim. With that it also received certain setbacks when a Dusseldorf court stayed two of its cases in August 2022, a Munich court stayed one of its case in September 2022 and it withdrew an infringement case in Mannheim in October 2022 when it became clear that this patent could get invalidated. In November 2022, Delhi High Court in India also dismissed a motion by Nokia against Oppo related to interim patent royalty payments. Nokia further received mixed results in the year 2022 where a couple of its complaints were rejected in Dusseldorf, one infringement suit was stayed in Mannheim but it won a third injunction in Munich.

January 2023 did not start well for Nokia’s as one of its patents was invalidated in EPO proceedings. Nokia further received setback in Indonesia where its fifth lawsuit against Oppo was also rejected and 3 of its appeals against previous rejections denied. The same month a Dutch court also denied Nokia a preliminary injunction against Oppo regarding infringing two of its SEPs. Due to the invalidity proceedings in the German Federal court against Nokia, a Munich court also stayed its infringement proceedings pending the federal court decision.

In February 2023, EPO gave a preliminary opinion against two of Oppo’s patents in a suit filed by Nokia, finding them invalid as granted.

Nokia also initiated infringement proceedings against another BBK owned Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vivo, for the same SEPs as involved in Oppo’s case. It received an injunction against Vivo from a Mannheim court in April 2023. Vivo subsequently decided to exit the German market as well, following in the footsteps of Oppo and OnePlus.

In May 2023, Oppo was able to invalidate further two patents of Nokia. Meanwhile, in June 2023, Nokia was able to get injunctions against 12 resellers of Oppo and OnePlus phones in Germany who were importing these phones still stocking them. Curiously, these resellers also carry Nokia devices which are now manufactured by HMD Global, a company where Nokia holds a minor stake.

As the two-year anniversary of this patent dispute rolls in, both Oppo and Nokia have landed decisive blows to each other and continue to engage in lawsuits across many jurisdictions in Europe. Nokia wants Oppo to accept its new royalty terms, similar to what it offers Samsung and Apple. Oppo feels that the royalty rates demanded by Nokia are excessive, especially since it has a very different business model from other licensees of Nokia patents. Oppo and other smartphone manufacturers from BBK stable are low-cost players. Paying high royalty rates would affect their competitive advantage which relies heavily on the lower cost of the smartphones. As such, Oppo, OnePlus and Vivo have found it more prudent to exit the German market where they held a minor market share than agreeing to the terms offered by Nokia. While we do not foresee an immediate end to these disputes or a settlement in the near future in Europe, Oppo and Vivo have brought FRAND determination proceedings against Nokia in China. China is an important market for Nokia, one which it cannot exit like Oppo did in Germany. If these Chinese proceedings do not go in favour of Nokia and Oppo is able to get more injunctions in counter-suits against Nokia in Germany, then there is a possibility that Nokia might agree to settle at terms more favorable to Oppo.

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