Joff Wild

France Brevets, which was created in March 2011 with €100 million of backing from the French government and Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC), has initiated legal action in both the US and Germany against LG Electronics and HTC alleging infringement of patents that the Paris-based NPE manages in its near field communication (NFC) portfolio. The patents being asserted in the US are numbers 6,700,551 (“Antenna signal amplitude modulation method”) and 7,665,664 (“Inductive coupling reader comprising means for extracting a power supply voltage”). McKool Smith, which has built a strong reputation in working with patent plaintiffs is representing France Brevets in the US.  

Announcing the actions Jean Charles Hourcade, France Brevet’s managing director, stated: “While our general philosophy is to act transparently and be diligent in explaining in detail to all our potential licensees how our patents are infringed by their products and how they can benefit from our reasonable licensing approach, we are also determined to take steps when such discussions are not conclusive.”

France Brevets was established in order to assist French organisations monetise their IP and my understanding is that the patents in the NFC portfolio are owned by the NPE itself, along with Orange and Inside Secure, both of which have strong links to France, of course. Notably, however, France Brevets is the exclusive manager of the licensing programme, including the litigations announced today, and has no obligation to consult with either of its partners before taking any decisions about the portfolio.

Responding to potential accusations that France Brevets is a patent troll, vice-president Yann Dietrich pointed out that the firm is transparent about ownership and the terms under which it offers patents to licensees. “We always engage in a strong dialogue with any potential licensee, explaining our patents in detail and how they read to products, as well as what benefits taking out a licence can bring,” he stated. Contrary to trolls which, Dietrich said, sue first and present their case later, France Brevets acts as a traditional licensor and may even be putting itself at some risk by discussing patents and business terms before considering any litigation. “Through such discussion, you may affect your case and/or your damages theory,” he explained. “But by refusing systematically to take a licence, potential licensees force patent holders to consider litigation based strategies rather than traditional licensing. At the end of the day, this may not be beneficial for them.” 

Dietrich also confirmed that France Brevets is looking to develop other licensing programmes similar to the NFC one and will continue to build its portfolio through licence and/or acquisition. Action that the firm launched earlier this year in Germany against an unnamed company is on-going, he said.