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Monday, 09 January 2017 09:36

Smartphone 'legal' wars are back Featured


If you can’t beat them, kill them, or at least make it very hard to do business. That was the apparent motto of Apple’s legal department in the past but the courts are getting more savvy to “fair use” (FRAND – fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) and patent trolls.

So, when Nokia sued Apple just before Xmas it was sure it was on solid ground. It filed in three courts in Germany — Duesseldorf, Mannheim and Munich — and the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, over 40 patents for technologies including displays, user interfaces, software, antennas, chipsets and video coding.

Nokia's head of patent business Ilkka Rahnasto said in the statement, "Since agreeing on a licence covering some patents from the Nokia Technologies portfolio in 2011, Apple has declined subsequent offers made by Nokia to license other of its patented inventions which are used by many of Apple's products. Nokia has created or contributed to many of the fundamental technologies used in today's mobile devices, including Apple products.

"After several years of negotiations trying to reach an agreement to cover Apple's use of these patents, we are now taking action to defend our rights."

Nokia’s suit came as an immediate response to Apple suing Acacia Research and Conversant Intellectual Property Management accusing them of colluding with Nokia to extract and extort exorbitant revenues unfairly and anti-competitively from Apple.

Nokia first sued Apple in 2009 when it claimed Apple had infringed some of its essential patents. In what has become a saga as old as smartphones themselves and wasted countless hours of court time and kept lawyers going, Apple agreed to a settlement and payment of on-going royalties to Nokia.

Apple says Acacia and Conversant are purely patent assertion entities established to aggressively pursue money. It says the suit should not be allowed because it is anti-competitive and abusive to Apple.

Nokia is separately suing because it believes Apple owes it money for patents used in recent Apple products. And that is the crux of the issue – while FRAND concepts are immensely important to allow technology to advance (such as the use of gestures or swipes etc.) companies that have invested immense amounts of money in R&D need to be protected too.

According to Fosspatents,  Nokia may deal a “carpet bomb blow” in 11 countries to Apple. It adds that Nokia has also filed an ITC complaint, seeking a US import ban over eight patents and that it's suing in nine more countries. Last time Apple and Nokia met at the ITC, neither made a lot of headway there; it turned out to be a patent graveyard.

In addition to the US (Eastern District of Texas, with a total of 18 patents in play, including H.264 video codec patents) and Germany (eight patents in Duesseldorf, four in Mannheim, and two in Munich, where the first hearings in this new dispute will likely take place in March or April), Nokia is now also asserting three patents in Helsinki, Finland; three patents in London; four in Turin, Italy; three in Stockholm, Sweden; one in Barcelona, Spain; three in The Hague, Netherlands; one in Paris, France; one in Hong Kong, China; and one in Tokyo, Japan.

If Nokia wins on any of these counts it could stop sales of iPhones in various regions – unless of course, Apple settles out of court. But Apple is well known to be ready, willing and able to litigate for years if it feels it must.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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