• Filing Date: 2021-03-31
  • Form Type: 10-K
  • Description: Annual report
v3.21.1
Commitments and Contingencies
12 Months Ended
Dec. 31, 2020
Commitments and Contingencies Disclosure [Abstract]  
Commitments and Contingencies

NOTE 15 – COMMITMENTS AND CONTINGENCIES

 

The Company has operating leases predominantly for operating facilities. As of December 31, 2020, the remaining lease terms on our operating leases range from seven to sixteen months. DSS Plastics Group which finalized the sale of its assets on August 14, 2020 is not included in the lease liability calculation (see Note 16). Renewal options to extend our leases have not been exercised due to uncertainty. Termination options are not reasonably certain of exercise by the Company. There is no transfer of title or option to purchase the leased assets upon expiration. There are no residual value guarantees or material restrictive covenants. There are no significant finance leases as of December 31, 2020. Rent expense for the year ended December 31, 2020 and December 31, 2019 was approximately $217,000 and $255,000 respectively.

 

Future minimum lease payments as of December 31,2020 are as follows:

 

    Totals  
2021     176,000  
2022     13,000  
2023     -  
2024     -  
Total lease payments     189,000  
Less: Imputed Interest     (7,000 )
Present value of remaining lease payments   $ 182,000  
         
Current   $ 167,000  
Noncurrent   $ 15,000  
         
Weighted-average remaining lease term (years)     1.05  
         
Weighted-average discount rate     4.0 %


 

Employment Agreements - The Company has employment or severance agreements with members of its management team. The employment or severance agreements provide for severance payments in the event of termination for certain causes. As of December 31, 2020, the Company accrued approximately $4,300,000 for Mr. Heng Fai Ambrose Chan, an executive of the Company’s DSS Cyber Security Pte. Ltd subsidiary in accordance with the terms of his employment contract. Also, as of December 31, 2020, the minimum severance payments under these employment agreements are, in aggregate, approximately $182,000.

 

Legal Proceedings 

 

The Apple Litigation

 

On November 26, 2013, DSSTM filed suit against Apple, Inc. (“Apple”) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, for patent infringement (the “Apple Litigation”). The complaint alleges infringement by Apple of DSSTM’s patents that relate to systems and methods of using low power wireless peripheral devices. DSSTM is seeking a judgment for infringement, injunctive relief, and compensatory damages from Apple. On October 28, 2014, the case was stayed by the District Court pending a determination of Apple’s motion to transfer the case to the Northern District of California. On November 7, 2014, Apple’s motion to transfer the case to the Northern District of California was granted. On December 30, 2014, Apple filed two Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) petitions with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) for review of the patents at issue in the case. The PTAB instituted the IPRs on June 25, 2015. The California District Court then stayed the case pending the outcome of those IPR proceedings. Oral arguments of the IPRs took place on March 15, 2016, and on June 17, 2016, PTAB ruled in favor of Apple on both IPR petitions. DSSTM then filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the “Federal Circuit”) seeking reversal of the PTAB decisions. Oral arguments for the appeal were held on August 9, 2017. On March 23, 2018, the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB, finding that the PTAB erred when it found the claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,128,290 to be unpatentable. The Federal Circuit affirmed its decision on July 12, 2018, when it denied Apple’s petition for panel rehearing of the Federal Circuit’s Opinion and Judgment issued on March 23, 2018. On July 27, 2018, the District Court judge lifted the Stay resuming the litigation, which had a trial date set for the week of February 24, 2020. On January 14, 2020, the Court in the case DSS Technology Management, Inc. v. Apple, Inc., 4:14-cv-05330-HSG pending in the Northern District of California issued an order that denied DSS’ motion to amend its infringement contentions. In the same Order, the Court granted Apple’s motion to strike DSS’ infringement expert report. DSS filed a motion for leave to file a motion for reconsideration of the Court’s order denying DSS the right to amend its infringement contentions and motion to strike DSS infringement expert report. On February 18, 2020, the Court denied DSS’s motion for leave to file a motion for reconsideration. On February 24, 2020, the Court signed a Final Judgment stipulating that Apple was “entitled to a judgment of non-infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,128,290 as a matter of law.” On March 10, 2020 DSS filed an appeal of this Final Judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit under DSS Technology Management v. Apple, Federal Circuit Docket no. 2020-1570. Briefing on the appeal has been completed. The parties are currently waiting for the Court of Appeals to schedule a date for oral argument.

 

The LED Litigation

 

On April 13, 2017, the Company filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd. and Seoul Semiconductor, Inc. (collectively, “Seoul Semiconductor”) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging infringement of certain of the Company’s Light-Emitting Diode (“LED”) patents. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. On June 7, 2017, the Company refiled its patent infringement complaint against Seoul Semiconductor in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division. On December 3, 2017, Seoul Semiconductor filed an IPR challenging the validity of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,949,771. This IPR was instituted by the PTAB on June 7, 2018. On April 18, 2019, the PTAB issued a written decision determining claims 1-9 of the ‘771 patent unpatentable. The Company did not appeal that determination. On December 21, 2017, Seoul Semiconductor filed an IPR challenging the validity of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 7,256,486. This IPR was instituted by the PTAB on June 21, 2018. On June 10, 2019, the PTAB issued a written decision determining claims 1-3 of the ‘486 patent unpatentable. On August 12, 2019, the Company filed a Notice of Appeal with the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the PTAB’s decisions. The Company subsequently filed a motion to vacate and remand the PTAB’s decision in light of intervening precedent under the Appointments Clause. That motion was granted on January 23, 2020. On January 25, 2018, Seoul Semiconductor filed an IPR challenging the validity of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 7,524,087. This IPR was instituted by the PTAB on July 27, 2018. On July 22, 2019, the PTAB issued a written decision determining claims 1, 6-8, 15, and 17 of the ‘087 patent unpatentable. On September 23, 2019, the Company filed a Notice of Appeal with the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the PTAB’s decisions. The Company subsequently filed a motion to vacate and remand the PTAB’s decision in light of intervening precedent under the Appointments Clause. That motion was granted on February 3, 2020. These challenged patents are the patents that are the subject matter of the infringement lawsuit, which is pending but stayed pending the outcome of the IPR proceedings.

 

On April 13, 2017, the Company filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Cree, Inc. (“Cree”) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging infringement of certain of the Company’s LED patents. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. On June 8, 2017, the Company refiled its patent infringement complaint against Cree in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, and thereafter filed a first amended complaint for patent infringement against Cree in that same court on July 14, 2017. The case is currently pending as of the date of this Report. On June 6, 2018, Cree filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims under U.S. Patent No. 7,256,486. This IPR was instituted and joined with the Seoul Semiconductor IPR. On June 7, 2018, Cree filed IPR petitions challenging the validity of certain claims U.S. Patent Nos. 7,524,087 and 6,949,771. Both IPRs were denied by the PTAB on November 14, 2018 as time barred. The challenged patent is the patent that is the subject matter of the infringement lawsuit, which is pending but stayed pending the outcome of the IPR.

 

On August 15, 2017, the Company filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Lite-On, Inc., and Lite-On Technology Corporation (collectively, “Lite-On”) in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, alleging infringement of certain of the Company’s LED patents. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. The case is currently pending but is stayed pending the outcome of IPR proceedings filed by other parties.

 

On December 7, 2017, DSS filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Nichia Corporation and Nichia America Corporation in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, alleging infringement of certain of DSS’s LED patents. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. The case is currently pending as of the date of this Report. On May 10, 2018, Nichia filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims under U.S. Patent No. 7,919,787. On May 11, 2018, Nichia filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims under U.S. Patent No. 7,652,297. On May 25, 2018, Nichia filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims under U.S. Patent No. 7,524,087. On May 29, 2018, Nichia filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims under U.S. Patent No. 6,949,771. On May 30, 2018, Nichia filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims under U.S. Patent No. 7,256,486. The 6,949,771 IPR was denied institution, but the remaining IPRs were instituted by the PTAB. On December 10, 2018, Nichia refiled IPRs relating to 6,949,771, which was denied by the PTAB on April 15, 2019. These challenged patents are the patents that are the subject matter of the infringement lawsuit, which is pending but stayed pending the outcome of the IPR proceedings. On September 17, 2019, the PTAB issued a written decision determining claims 1-14 of the ‘787 patent unpatentable. The Company did not appeal that determination. On October 30, 2019, the PTAB issued a written decision determining claims 1-17 of the ‘297 patent unpatentable. The Company did not appeal that determination. On November 19, 2019, the PTAB issued a written decision determining claims 1-5 of the ‘486 patent unpatentable. The Company has appealed that determination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That appeal is now fully briefed. The Court of Appeals has not yet set the matter for argument.

  

On September 18, 2019, DSS filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd. and Seoul Semiconductor Inc. in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,315,119. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. The Court has conducted an initial scheduling conference and has set a procedural schedule for the case. On May 18, 2020, Seoul Semiconductor filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims 1-7 of the patent. The District Court has entered a stay of the District Court proceedings pending the outcome of the IPR petition. The IPR petition was instituted on November 20, 2020 and remains pending.

 

On September 19, 2019, DSS filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Cree, Inc. in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,784,460. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. On February 11, 2020, Cree filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of the patent claims. On September 1, 2020, the PTAB instituted the IPR proceeding. The District Court has conducted an initial scheduling conference and has set a procedural schedule for the case. The District Court has entered a stay of the District Court proceedings pending the outcome of the IPR petition, which remains pending.

 

On September 20, 2019, DSS filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Nichia Corp. and Nichia America Corp. in the United States District Court for the Central District of California alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,879,040. The Company is seeking a judgment for infringement of the patents along with other relief including, but not limited to, money damages, costs and disbursements. The Court has conducted an initial scheduling conference and has set a procedural schedule for the case. On May 18, 2020, Nichia filed an IPR petition challenging the validity of claims 1-4, 8, and 11 of the patent. The District Court has entered a stay of the District Court proceedings pending the outcome of the IPR petition. On November 17, 2020, the PTAB instituted the IPR proceeding, which remains pending.

 

The Intel, Apple Litigation

 

On November 20, 2019, DSS Technology Management was sued in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, by Intel Corporation (“Intel”) and Apple Inc. (“Apple”). The other defendants in the litigation are Fortress Investment Group LLC, Fortress Credit Co. LLC, Uniloc 2017 LLC, Uniloc USA, INC., Uniloc Luxembourg S.A.R.L., VLSI Technology LLC, INVT SPE LLC, Inventergy Global, INC., IXI IP, LLC, and Seven Networks, LLC. The complaint includes allegations regarding a February 13, 2014 Investment Agreement between DSS Technology Management and Fortress Credit Co. LLC as well as two subsequent agreements. The complaint also contains allegations regarding DSS Technology Management’s lawsuit against Intel that was filed in February 2015 in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Texas (referred to below). In the complaint, Intel and Apple allege violations of Section 1 of the Sherman Act and unfair competition under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 against DSS Technology Management. Additional claims are alleged against other defendants. Intel and Apple seek relief from the court including that defendants’ conduct be declared a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, Section 7 of the Clayton Act, and Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq.; that Intel and Apple recover damages against defendants in an amount to be determined and multiplied to the extent provided by law, including under Section 4 of the Clayton Act; that all contracts or agreements defendants entered into in violation of the Sherman Act, Clayton Act, or Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq. be declared void and the patents covered by those transfer agreements be transferred back to the transferors; that all patents transferred to defendants in violation of the Sherman Act, Clayton Act, or Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq. be declared unenforceable; and that Intel and Apple recover their costs and expenses associated with this case, together with interest. DSS Technology Management responded to the complaint on February 4, 2020 by filing a motion to dismiss and strike the complaint as well as a motion to stay discovery. The court granted the motion to stay discovery on March 25, 2020. A hearing on the motion to dismiss and to strike the complaint was reset for July 8, 2020. On July 8, 2020 the court granted DSS’s motion to dismiss, and while the order allowed the Plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint, it did dismiss with prejudice claims against DSS based on the patents asserted by DSS that were part of the complaint. On August 4, 2020, Apple and Intel filed a first amended complaint, in which DSS is no longer named as a defendant and upon which we believe the case is closed as to DSS.

 

The Ronaldi Litigation

 

In April 2019 DSS commenced an action in New York State Supreme Court, Monroe County, Index No. E2019003542, against Jeffrey Ronaldi, our former Chief Executive Officer. This New York action seeks a declaratory judgment that, contrary to informal claims made by him, Mr. Ronaldi’s employment agreement with us expired by its terms and that he is not entitled to any cash bonuses or other unpaid amounts. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction against Mr. Ronaldi from interfering with any of DSS’ IP litigation. Mr. Ronaldi subsequently commenced an action against DSS in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, on November 8, 2019, under case number 37-2019-00059664-CU-CO-CTL, in which he alleged that DSS terminated his employment in April 2019 in order to avoid paying him certain employment-related amounts. DSS was successful in dismissing the California case and consolidating it with the action pending in Monroe County, New York. Mr. Ronaldi asserted counterclaims in the Monroe County, New York action similar to those he originally brought in California. Mr. Ronaldi claims that his termination violated an alleged employment agreement or implied-in-fact employment agreement and that he should have remained employed through 2019. Mr. Ronaldi seeks to recover: (i) $144,657.53 in wages from April 11, 2019 through December 31, 2019; (ii) $769.23 in alleged unpaid based salary for time worked before April 11, 2019; (iii) $15,384.62 in alleged paid time off compensation; (iv) $3,076.93 in alleged unpaid sick time compensation; (v) $26,076.93 in waiting-time penalties; (vi) -$91,000 in unspecified expense reimbursement; (vii) $300,000 in alleged cash bonuses ($100,000 per year) based on DSS’s performance in 2017, 2018 and 2019; and (viii) a $450,000 performance bonus based on the result of certain alleged net proceeds from patent infringement litigation. He further claims an interest in any recovery in DSS Technology Management v. Apple, Inc., Case No. 4:14-cf05330-HSG. The parties are now engaged in discovery.

 

Additionally, on March 2, 2020 DSS and DSSTM filed a second litigation action against Jeffrey Ronaldi in the State of New York, Supreme Court, County of Monroe, Document Security Systems, Inc. and DSS Technology Management, Inc. vs. Jeffrey Ronaldi, Index No.: 2020002300, alleging acts of self-dealing and conflicts of interest while he served as CEO of both DSS and DSS TM. Mr. Ronaldi filed a Notice of Removal of this civil litigation to the United States District Court for the Western District of New York where it was assigned Case No. 6:20-cv-06265-EAW. Mr. Ronaldi filed a motion seeking to compel DSS to advance his legal fees to defend the action, which motion was fully briefed as of June 30, 2020 and remains pending and undecided. On March 16, 2021 the Western District of New York granted Mr. Ronaldi’s motion to have his defense costs advanced to him during the pendency of the action as they are incurred. On March 26, 2021 Mr. Ronaldi applied to the court for reimbursement of $160,896.25 in legal fees. The Company intends to object to the size of that bill as it was based on out-of-town billing rates and the result of an excessive number of hours spent on litigation. The parties are awaiting the court’s scheduling of the status conference for the management of all pretrial activities and set a tentative date for trial, however, due to discovery disputes the Court has signaled its intent to extend those deadlines.

 

Maiden Biosciences Litigation

 

On February 15, 2021, Maiden Biosciences, Inc. (“Maiden”) commenced an action against Document Security Stems, Inc. (“DSS”), Decentralized Sharing Systems, Inc. (“Decentralized”), HWH World, Inc. (“HWH”), RBC Life International, Inc., RBC Life Sciences, Inc (“RBC”)., Frank D. Heuszel (“Heuszel”), Steven E. Brown, Clinton Howard, and Andrew Howard (collectively, “Defendants”). The lawsuit is currently pending in the United States District Court Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, and is styled and numbered Maiden Biosciences, Inc. v. Document Security Stems, Inc., et al., Case No. 3:21-cv-00327.

 

This lawsuit relates to two promissory notes executed by RBC in the 4th quarter of 2019 in favor of Decentralized and HWH, totaling approximately $800,000. Maiden, a 2020 default judgment creditor of RBC, in the principal amount of $4,329,000, now complains about those notes, the funding of those notes, the subsequent default of those notes by RBC, and HWH and Decentralize’s subsequent Article 9 foreclosure or deed-in-lieu debt conveyances. In the instant lawsuit, Maiden asserts claims against Defendants for unjust enrichment, fraudulent transfer under the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Maiden also seeks a judgment from the court declaring: “(1) Defendants lacked a valid security interest in RBC and RBC Subsidiaries’ assets and therefore lacked the authority to sell the assets during the public foreclosure sale; (2) Defendant Heuszel’s low bid at the public foreclosure sale was invalid and void; (3) the public foreclosure sale was conducted in a commercially unreasonable manner; and (4) Defendants do not have the legal authority to transfer RBC and RBC’s Subsidiaries assets to Heuszel and HWH.” Maiden seeks to recover from Defendants: (1) treble damages or, alternatively, damages in the amount of their underlying judgment plus the other creditors’ claims or the value of the assets transferred, whichever is less, plus punitive or exemplary damages; (2) pre and post-judgment interest; and (3) attorneys’ fees and cost.

 

Pursuant to an agreement with Maiden, the deadline for Defendants DSS, Decentralized, HWH, RBC Life International, Inc., and Heuszel to answer or otherwise respond is March 30, 2021. The pretrial deadlines and tentative trial date will be set by the Court following a customary status conference.

 

In addition to the foregoing, we may become subject to other legal proceedings that arise in the ordinary course of business and have not been finally adjudicated. Adverse decisions in any of the foregoing may have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, cash flows or our financial condition. The Company accrues for potential litigation losses when a loss is probable and estimable.

 

Contingent Litigation Payments – The Company retains the services of professional service providers, including law firms that specialize in intellectual property licensing, enforcement and patent law. These service providers are often retained on an hourly, monthly, project, contingent or a blended fee basis. In contingency fee arrangements, a portion of the legal fee is based on predetermined milestones or the Company’s actual collection of funds. The Company accrues contingent fees when it is probable that the milestones will be achieved, and the fees can be reasonably estimated. As of December 31, 2020, the Company had not accrued any contingent legal fees pursuant to these arrangements.

 

Contingent Payments – The Company is party to certain agreements with funding partners who have rights to portions of intellectual property monetization proceeds that the Company receives. As of December 31, 2020, there are no contingent payments due.