Last November, IAM reported that Samsung Electronics, already locked in a high-stakes litigation battle with Huawei, was also facing multiple NPE suits in Chinese courts. One of the NPE plaintiffs was Shenzhen Dunjun Technology, and it was asserting a patent originally assigned to none other than Huawei. A search of Chinese court rulings reveals that this suit was not necessarily a one-off connected to the Samsung-Huawei dispute. Dunjun’s assertions go back several years, and include very large companies, both foreign and domestic.
According to an article published in the Chinese media, Dunjun is a licensing company set up in 2014, whose executive team includes former employees of Huawei, Foxconn and other technology companies with a major presence in the Shenzhen area. The assignments record shows that the company acquired several patents from Huawei during the summer of 2015. Beyond that transaction it is unclear whether Dunjun has any kind of ongoing relationship with Huawei.
But the NPE sued Samsung in the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on 20th January last year, at a time when the Korean company was already trying to fend off 20 patent infringement claims by Huawei across China (as well as parallel US litigation). The patent-in-suit, originally assigned to Huawei, was titled “Non-continuous demodulation realizing method for power saving at mobile terminal”.
Records from the Shenzhen court show seven cases filed by Dunjun, with the earliest back in 2015, shortly after it seems to have acquired the Huawei portfolio. Most are against what look like small or medium sized Chinese companies. But it also went after what is now China’s (and Asia’s) most valuable company – Tencent. This too was with a former Huawei patent. All we know about the case is that it was filed in September 2015 and voluntarily withdrawn by Dunjun in July 2016.
Dunjun also asserted a former Huawei patent against Microsoft at the Beijing IP Court sometime in 2016. According to a court order accessed through database IP House, the trial for invention patent infringement was suspended last October as Microsoft challenged the patent’s validity before the Patent Reexamination Board.
For a variety of reasons it is difficult to get a holistic view on just how much NPE activity is going on in China, and who is behind it. We know that a few foreign assertion entities – including Dual Sim Technologies LLC, Longhorn IP and GPNE – have brought cases against large foreign companies in the last couple of years. There are also non-practising Chinese SEP developers – Iwncomm and Digital Rise – which have asserted patents against major foreign implementers.
We know less about how active NPEs are in Chinese vs. Chinese patent cases, which make up a wide majority of the country’s patent litigation. A significant portion of Chinese patent plaintiffs are individuals, and some practitioners say their assertion activity bears some of the hallmarks of troll-like behaviour. What the Dunjun example illustrates is that we are likely to be seeing more and more NPEs and licensing companies emulating more advanced business models. They are likely going to be run by people with experience in major tech companies’ IP departments – and if companies like Huawei are willing to play ball with them, they could have a very big impact indeed.