An article published in China this week has turned up two previously unreported patent infringement suits against Samsung in the country's courts, both filed this year. In one case, an apparent Chinese NPE is asserting a patent formerly owned by Huawei against the South Korean company. In the other, a Texas NPE is suing Samsung with a former Sisvel patent. Taken together, the cases indicate that there may be much more NPE activity – foreign and domestic – than meets the eye in China.
You can see the full article in Chinese at this link. The author, Li Junhui, is an IP expert at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.
There has been a long-running dispute between Huawei and Samsung in China. Numerous assertions, counter-assertions and invalidation requests are being played-out across the country: in Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Quanzhou. But Huawei may not be doing all the heavy lifting itself. An entity called Shenzhen Dunjun Technology sued Samsung on 20th January 2017 in the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court, records show. According to Li, the patent-in-suit was assigned to Dunjun by Huawei back in June 2015. This transfer does indeed show up in Chinese assignment records.
Dunjun is evidently an IP licensing firm that was started back in 2014. In Li’s article, he notes that the company website shows that it is managed by former employees of Huawei, Foxconn and other tech firms. That homepage appears to be down from where I’m sitting, but Google has a cached version of it from as recently as 23rd November.
Without any further details on Dunjun, it is hard to know its staus: for all we know it could be partly or wholly owned by Huawei, or completely independent of it. But it is significant that the telecom giant may be either outsourcing some of its licensing and litigation efforts, or just selling off unwanted patent assets to NPEs. We know that rival ZTE has set up a subsidiary called Inteq to manage its licensing efforts, and that it recently assigned patents to a foreign NPE, Longhorn IP. Huawei’s potential connection with Dunjun shows that Chinese companies might have plenty of domestic options for licensing partnerships as well.
Turning to the other case: according to Li, Samsung was sued in June 2017 at the Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court with a Chinese patent originally granted to Sisvel. The article gives only a Chinese name to the plaintiff and says it is a US company registered in Texas. The NPE in question appears to be Dual Sim Technologies, LLC. In April 2016, it acquired the US family member of the Chinese patent (covering a “GSM Cellular Terminal”) for $1 and “other valuable consideration”, a classic privateering set-up.
Dual Sim does not appear to have filed any litigation in the US. Erik Stamell, who signed the assignment agreement on Dual Sim’s behalf, also controls High Frequency Trading Systems LLC and has turned up in corporate records as a manager at Equitable IP.
Li further reports that Samsung challenged both patents before SIPO’s Patent Reexamination Board (PRB), which evidently upheld the Dunjun patent, while invalidating the Dual Sim patent. Both decisions can, of course, be appealed.
Given China’s civil law system, huge volume of cases, and a lack of unified litigation databases, it can take a while for cases like these to come to light, if they do so at all. This may even be a factor that appeals to NPEs, and to companies that might work with them. My sense is that quite a lot of activity is going on beneath the surface.