Apple Countersuit Claims Nokia Infringed on 13 Patents

Apple has filed a lawsuit against Nokia, saying the Finnish phone maker is infringing on 13 of its patents. Nokia originally filed its own patent-infringement lawsuits against Apple in October. According to one analyst, the boundaries of such patents are "fuzzy," and who's right is almost impossible to tell.

Apple to Nokia: Two can play at the patent-infringement game.

On Dec. 11, Apple released a statement saying the company has now filed a countersuit against Nokia, claiming the Finnish phone maker has infringed on 13 Apple patents.

"Other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not just by stealing ours," Bruce Sewell, Apple's general counsel and senior vice president, wrote in a statement posted on Apple's Website.

Sewell's comment perhaps purposefully echoed the accusations of Ilkka Rahnasto, vice president of Nokia's legal and intellectual division, who announced in an Oct. 22 statement that Nokia had filed a complaint against Apple in a U.S. district court for the infringement of 10 of Nokia's patents pertaining to GSM, UMTS and WLAN standards.

"The basic principle in the mobile industry is that those companies who contribute in technology development to establish standards create intellectual property, which others then need to compensate for," Rahnasto said in a statement.

"Apple is also expected to follow this principle. By refusing to agree [to] appropriate terms for Nokia's intellectual property, Apple is attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation," Rahnasto continued.

Some analysts speculate that Apple could owe Nokia up to $1 billion.

Apple, in its statement, did not specify what the 13 allegedly infringed-upon patents are, or pertain to. It did offer a recap of its history, however, noting that it "ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s ... reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s ... leads the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers ... and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone."

In the third quarter of 2009, Apple beat Nokia to become the world's most profitable handset maker, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

"I think it's a form of negotiation," Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told eWEEK. "What they're involved in here is nothing life or death to either company; it's just a matter of how much one is going to pay the other for the rights to some technology."

Gottheil said that it's almost impossible for a company to know when it's infringing on the patents of another, and that the courts aren't very equipped to judge such things.

Consequently, he said, such lawsuits are "based on the probability that some judge will vote in one direction or another, and the companies will settle on some amount of money that one will pay the other so that they can both shake hands and move on to other things."

Who's in the right? "It's just about impossible to tell," Gottheil said, as the boundaries of the patents are "pretty fuzzy."

Still, he clarified, "No one's accusing anyone of stealing anything. It's all a matter of convergence. Of two separate organizations winding up with techniques that are similar enough that if one patent [seems to cover it more], then the other company has to pay to use it."