Mannheim Regional Court has ruled that VW and Audi may continue to install broadband antennas from their supplier Continental Temic in their cars (case ID: 7 O 174/17). The judges have thus dismissed the first of 18 lawsuits filed by chip manufacturer Broadcom against the two German car manufacturers over connected cars.
1 October 2018 by Mathieu Klos
Broadcom had filed a motion against VW and Audi for injunctive relief, damages and rendering of account for using Continental’s broadband antennas. However, the judges saw no grounds for infringement of patent EP 1475859 and dismissed the case. Broadcom can appeal.
The automotive industry has long anticipated lawsuits from non-practicing entities (NPEs) concerning mobile phone patents and thus these proceedings are of great significance for the industry. However, it was not a patent troll, but rather the chip manufacturer Broadcom who brought the two German car manufacturers before a European patent court in autumn 2017.
According to JUVE sources, the case is the first of 18 lawsuits on the subject. The suits concern seven patents for chips for wireless communication in cars, including end devices via Bluetooth and wifi. Some were filed by Broadcom and some by Avago. Both companies have been operating under the Broadcom umbrella since 2015.
Becker Automotive Systems, a supplier and subsidiary of Harman Becker, the Continental subsidiary Conti Temic and the chip manufacturers Texas Instruments and Nvidia are all co-litigants in the dispute.
Turbulent times in Mannheim
Mannheim Regional Court had already heard an initial case at the end of June but postponed it until September (case IDs: 2 O 190/17 and 2 O 191/17). The rulings are to be issued at the end of October.
The judgment in the present case was also delayed due to a change in the chair of the 7th Civil Chamber at Mannheim Regional Court in September. The previous presiding judge, Patrizia Rombach, had conducted the oral hearing in the proceedings at the end of June, but at the beginning of September she took over the newly founded Antitrust Chamber. Tochtermann took over the vacant chairmanship
The mixed Munich firm Grünecker represented Broadcom in proceedings against a Japanese electronics group last year. The chip manufacturer assigned the lion’s share of the proceedings against Audi and VW to Grünecker. Olaf Giebe, a partner at Klaka’s Düsseldorf office, is also advising on some of the proceedings; it is his first case for the chip manufacturer. Patent attorneys from Grünecker and Dilg Haeusler Schindelmann are advising on technical matters. The latter were not involved in the current ruling.
On the defendants’ side, a so-called joint defence group has long since formed, which probably includes more than just the two defendants and their official co-litigants. The relationship between Audi and VW and Kather Augenstein is well established, though not exclusive. Senior partner Kather has good contacts with the VW Group. The firm has divided the defence of the respective lawsuits between its partners.
Of the long list of co-litigants involved, only the Continental subsidiary Temic was present for the current ruling. The automotive supplier has been working with Hoyng ROKH Monegier’s Munich partner Haft for years. He cooperates closely with the Munich patent attorneys of Samson & Partner in numerous cases concerning mobile phone patents.
In terms of the co-litigants, Harman Becker retained a DLA team for the first time led by Munich partner Markus Gampp, while Nvidia instructed lawyers and patent attorneys from Bardehle Pagenberg. Texas Instruments is advised by Munich-based Hogan Lovells partner Steffen Steininger and patent attorneys from Prinz & Partner. Not all co-litigants are involved in each of the 18 proceedings.
Robert Bosch, the chip manufacturer Marvell Technologies and the LED producer Nichia are at present only observing the proceedings. It is not known who is advising Marvell. It is thought that Bosch’s own legal and patent department is managing the proceedings. In the past Nichia has always been represented by Taylor Wessing in patent litigation in Germany. However, neither the companies nor the lawyers officially confirmed their participation in this case.
Grünecker (Munich): Bernd Allekotte (lead), Ulrich Blumenröder, Moritz Höffe, Thomas Kronberger (both patent attorneys)
Kather Augenstein (Düsseldorf): Peter Kather, Alexander Haertel (both lead), Christof Augenstein, Miriam Kiefer, Christopher Weber; associates: Jonas Block, Sören Dahm, Carina Höfer, Nina Belbl, Henrike Landgraf
Viering Jentschura & Partner (Munich): Eric-Michael Dokter (patent attorney)
In-house (VW; Wolfsburg): Klaus Oppermann
In-house (Audi; Ingolstadt): Martin Siemann
For Continental Temic (co-litigant)
Hoyng ROKH Monegier (Munich): Klaus Haft; associate: Eva Thörner
Samson & Partner (Munich): Wolfgang Lippich, Lucas Fischer (both patent attorneys)
In-house (Munich): Ralf Schober (IP counsel)
Regional Court Mannheim, 7th Civil Chamber
Peter Tochtermann (presiding judge)