Centre for Internet & Society

The blog post by Nachiket Mhatre was published by mysmartprice on December 22, 2017.


We had reached out to OnePlus early in the morning yesterday (that is, December 22) for an official statement prior to publishing the post later in the evening. Even a day later, as of this update, OnePlus hasn’t issued any clarifying statement either confirming or denying the patent infringement claim made by SensibleVision.

We had also contacted George Brostoff, the CEO and Co-Founder of SensibleVision, regarding the legal ramifications of his claim and if SensibleVision is contemplating legal action against OnePlus. Brostoff issued the following statement in response:

“Actually the comment by the patent expert quoted in the linked article is spot on,” noted Brostoff before issuing additional clarifying statement. “Legal process is always SensibleVision’s last resort. We pursue legal patent infringement only with companies that we have approached first through non-legal means and if they choose to then use our patented technology in the markets that our patents cover. Some of our patents are US only. We see companies like OnePlus as our possible customers. Our technology, both patented and proprietary, provides them with the possibility of better performance and more secure solutions. When companies license our solutions, they get the benefits of our broad patent portfolio and SensibleVision’s early entry into the market, something that helps minimize other companies claiming patent infringement against them. Unlike India, OnePlus currently has little to no US sales presence. So while they are on our partnership ‘radar’, they are not on our ‘legal’ radar for infringement.”

The gist of SensibleVision’s statement is that it probably won’t file a patent infringement lawsuit, but instead approach OnePlus to settle the matter amicably — say, by forging a Global Patent License Agreement (GPLA) — wherein OnePlus could be expected to pay to licence SensibleVision patents that are allegedly being employed in the OnePlus 5T’s Face Unlock system.

What’s interesting is Brostoff admitting that some of SensibleVision’s patents are valid only in the US, with him further insinuating that OnePlus’s sales volumes in the USA cannot justify prohibitive patent litigation costs.

We asked our resident patent expert, Rohini Lakshane, for her opinion on this statement and she confirmed that, in some cases, patent infringement settlements awarded by the US courts are in proportion to sales value and volume of the infringing products. In short, SensibleVision might not be too keen on taking the legal route against OnePlus, because the potential settlement payout might not be enough to cover the excessive cost of litigation in US patent courts.

The original story continues…

The OnePlus 5T’s Face Unlock technology has been critically acclaimed across the board, with our personal experience too pegging the biometric security system as one of the fastest face recognition implementations available in the market today, while being seemingly secure and impenetrable to simple workarounds. Even as technology critics and consumers wonder if this piece of biometric security is too good to be true, there could be a patent war brewing on the horizon for OnePlus.

Speaking in an interview with MySmartPrice, the CEO and Co-Founder of SensibleVision, George Brostoff, claimed that OnePlus might have infringed upon at least one of the patents belonging to the biometric security solutions provider. He also revealed that, in addition to other unspecified face recognition patents, OnePlus may have employed SensibleVision’s patent pertaining to the use of the screen as an illuminator. In fact, Brostoff claims to have notified “several companies” about their infringement of that particular patent.

“This is nothing new. We have been doing this for years. It even appears that they may be using several patented technologies,” said George Brostoff when asked what he made of OnePlus 5T’s Face Unlock implementation. “We have not licensed our patents to OnePlus or their supplier. From the video on Forbes, they are likely infringing at the very least on our illumination patent.”

Analysis from a patent and IP expert

Brostoff refused to divulge further details citing that SensibleVision has since handed the matter over to its legal firm, which probably means that we might hear more about this in the near future. Patent infringement claims in particular are extremely difficult to verify, so we spoke with Rohini Lakshane, who’s a Public Policy Researcher with extensive experience on patent and intellectual property regulation for more insight into the matter and an expert analysis on what this potential patent spat could entail.

“SensibleVision is a US company. Patents are valid only in the jurisdiction where they have been granted. Unless the company has registered a patent application or was awarded one for face recognition in China, there is no infringement. That is with respect to sale of the devices in China. With respect to sale in India, again, SensibleVision needs to have registered the patents in India,” explains Lakshane. “The way licensing works is the companies that hold many patents for a particular technology often license entire patent portfolios for use anywhere in the world. This is called Global Patent Licence Agreement (GPLA). This is usually confidential. What patents and how many are in the portfolio and what are the licensing terms [Editor’s note: in other words, how much money changes hands, among other things] is also confidential.”

From what Brostoff has revealed to us during the course of the interview, there seems to be no patent sharing agreement between OnePlus and SensibleVision to our knowledge. While it’s not easy to file and win patent lawsuits against Chinese companies in China, Lakshane suggests that SensibleVision can at least potentially begin patent infringement proceedings in the USA, where it has filed for the aforementioned patent.

However, all of this is conjecture from an expert in the field, as there’s no concrete corroborating proof legitimising SensibleVision’s patent infringement claims against OnePlus either. We have contacted OnePlus for its response on the matter, and will update this article with the official statement, so keep watching this space.

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