Ericsson sues Lenovo over 5G patents, accuses it of stalling talks

Swedish company claims Moto parent is violating its FRAND commitment

Telecoms giant Ericsson has filed a lawsuit against Lenovo and its mobile phone subsidiary Motorola that accuses it of infringing 5G patents and stalling on negotiations over mutual licensing agreements.

In the complaint [PDF] filed with the US District Court in North Carolina late last week, Ericsson claims that Lenovo has avoided all efforts to negotiate a licensing agreement for more than ten years.

The alleged infringements involve four Ericsson patents, which mostly relate to 5G communications, and concern Lenovo’s mobile phones, laptop computers, PCs and tablet devices.

Ericsson is seeking recognition from the court that China-owned Lenovo has infringed on the patents in question, and to be awarded damages for the infringement.

The dispute goes back as far as 2008, according to Ericsson, when the company says it first contacted Lenovo to notify that some of its products were covered by Ericsson’s 2G and 3G patents and that it needed to take out a license.

Ericsson claims, however, that Lenovo has dragged out negotiations ever since, while continuing to use Ericsson's patented technology.

The Nordic corporation offered Lenovo a global cross-licensing agreement in 2010, whereby the pair would grant each a license to the other, and Lenovo would make net balancing payments to Ericsson in the form of a running royalty, plus an upfront payment to cover Lenovo’s past unlicensed sales.

Ericsson recently signed just such a mutual long-term cross-licensing agreement with Chinese megacorp Huawei that includes patents relating to a broad range of technology areas, including 3G, 4G, and 5G cellular networks.

However, sometime after, Lenovo produced its own counteroffer requesting that Ericsson agree to waive all past royalties for the unlicensed products that Lenovo already sold, before withdrawing the counteroffer a few months later.

Lenovo acquired Motorola’s mobile phone business from Google in 2014.

Ericsson contends that it has continued to try to engage Lenovo in negotiations over the years, but claims it was not even willing to sign an updated industry-standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA) under which further negotiations could proceed.

The last straw for Ericsson, it appears, came in June this year when Lenovo proposed an NDA which, according to Ericsson's complaint, would have allowed Lenovo to share Ericsson's confidential information with a host of third-party companies and law firms, as well as limited Ericsson's ability to enforce its patent rights over Lenovo, all while leaving itself the option of suing Ericsson in China at any time.

Ericsson's four patents that the company is suing over are US patent numbers 10,425,817, 10,306,669, 11,317,342 and 11,515,893. The '817 patent relates to protecting privacy in wireless networks, and '669 covers "physical uplink control channel (PUCCH) resource allocation."

The '342 patent refers to wireless communication in which "system information is transmitted in parts," and the '893 Patent covers "shift values of quasi-cyclic LDPC codes."

In the court filing, Ericsson took care to point out that it publishes the royalty rates upon which it is prepared to grant licenses to the industry on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms, subject to reciprocity.

In a statement sent to The Register, Ericsson said that: "Ericsson has filed a number of lawsuits against Lenovo and its subsidiary Motorola Mobility for patent infringement in multiple jurisdictions. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reach agreement on the terms and scope of a license, and both Lenovo and Motorola Mobility are using our technology without a license."

The company claimed that its annual investments in R&D of around $4 billion have led to its leading 5G patent portfolio, and that fair compensation through patent licensing is important to ensure new investments.

"These cases are ongoing, and Ericsson will refrain from making any further comments at this point."

Lenovo has not yet responded to our request for comment but we will update this article if the company responds. ®

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