Apple Assembles Crack Legal Team as Nokia Patent Suit Gets Under Way

Apple has in its corner a crack team of lawyers that specialize in patent law, according to the Bloomberg news service, as it pursues its infringement lawsuit against smartphone competitor Nokia.

Apple is compiling a top-notch legal team as it prepares to face off with Nokia this week in front of the International Trade Commission, Bloomberg reported Nov. 29.

The phone makers have traded allegations of patent infringement both in U.S. courts and with the ITC, beginning with a suit Nokia filed in October 2009 regarding 10 patents related to GSM, UMTS and WLAN standards.

"Apple is attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation," Ilkka Rahnasto, vice president of Nokia's legal and intellectual property division, said in an Oct. 22, 2009, statement following the initial filing.

Apple retaliated with a Dec. 12, 2009, suit and a statement in which Bruce Sewell, Apple's general counsel and senior vice president, retorted, "Other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not just by stealing ours."

According to Bloomberg, Apple has hired legal firm WilmerHale's William Lee, who successfully represented Broadcom against Qualcomm; Robert Krupka of Kirkland & Ellis, who helped Apple negotiate a settlement with Creative Technology; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges' Matt Powers, who successfully defended Merck's patent for Singular, an asthma drug worth $4.7 billion annually. Sewell will continue to lead Apple's legal team.

Lyle Vander Schaaf, an attorney with Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, described the case to Bloomberg as "two 800-pound gorillas fighting each other," as indeed the two are mobile technology heavyweights.

Nokia has long been the industry market share leader. But despite seeing its market share falter in recent quarters as it faces increasing competition from Apple and Android-running smartphones in the high end of the market, it shipped 26.5 million phones during the third quarter, posting 61.6 percent year-on-year growth. Meanwhile, Apple reported year-on-year growth of 90.5 percent, jumping ahead of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion to claim the No. 2 spot on shipments of 14.1 million iPhones. These shipment numbers are from a Nov. 4 report from IDC.

While the stakes could hardly seem higher, the Nokia-Apple case will be a prelude to similar patent disputes between Apple and two other smartphone competitors-Motorola and HTC, which are both makers of successful Android-based phones that are proving to be stout competition for the iPhone. During the third quarter, HTC posted the industry's second-highest year-on-year growth figure of 176.2 percent, and with the addition of Windows Phone 7 devices to its lineup, HTC is aiming to ship 9 million units in the fourth quarter.

Heading into the trial, the good vibes are on Nokia's side, with ITC's staff having announced in a pre-hearing statement that they found that at least some of Apple's patent accusations were invalid. However, the staff added that if Judge Charles Bullock did find Nokia to be in violation of the patents, "he should ban some of Nokia's phones from being imported into the U.S.," the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Oct. 1, Apple additionally filed suit against Nokia in a British court, which a Nokia spokesperson said concerned the same nine patents involved in the suit filed in the United States.

Laurie Armstrong, Nokia's director of communications, told eWEEK at the time that the charges "change nothing in the fundamentals of the matter, which are rooted in Apple's refusal to respect Nokia's intellectual property and attempt to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation."