Nokia's Apple Lawsuit Deepens Long-Running Conflict

Nokia launched a new legal complaint against Apple May 7, alleging that the iPad and iPhone violate five of its patents. This is the newest round in a battle that has seen the two companies fire off multiple patent-infringement suits over the past year, and the latest twist suggests there will be no firm and speedy resolution. In addition to its battle with Nokia, Apple has alleged that HTC violated several of its patents, although HTC's recent intellectual property agreement with Microsoft gives the manufacturer more legal ammunition with which to fight the complaint. Nokia and Apple have issued similar language claiming they pioneered certain smartphone-related innovations first.

Nokia launched the next round in its lengthy legal battle against Apple May 7, with a new lawsuit alleging that Apple's iPad and iPhone infringe on five of its patents. This newest action suggests that the two companies will remain locked in acrimony for some time to come, short of an out-of-court settlement or similar backroom negotiation, even as Apple moves to accuse other manufacturers of alleged patent violations.

"The patents in question relate to technologies for enhanced speech and data transmission, using positioning data in applications and innovations in antenna configurations that improve performance and save space, allowing smaller and more compact devices," Nokia said in a May 7 news release about the complaint, which was filed in Federal District Court in the Western District of Wisconsin. "These patented innovations are important to Nokia's success as they allow improved product performance and design."

By its own estimation, Nokia has spent around $50 billion over the past 20 years to build its product portfolio, which includes 11,000 patent families.

"Nokia has been the leading developer of many key technologies in mobile devices," said Paul Melin, general manager of patent licensing for Nokia. "We have taken this step to protect the results of our pioneering development and to put an end to continued unlawful use of Nokia's innovation."

Nokia originally began seeking royalties on its patents from Apple in May 2009. When Apple reportedly refused to negotiate, the companies began a series of legal claims and counter-claims. Nokia filed a complaint against Apple on Oct. 22 alleging violation of 10 patents for GSM, WLAN and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) standards; Apple fired its own broadside on Dec. 12, accusing Nokia of 13 patent violations. Its blood up, Nokia on Dec. 29 filed patent infringement lawsuits against Apple with both the U.S. District Court in Delaware and the International Trade Commission.

Apple then filed its own complaint with the International Trade Commission on Jan. 15, claiming that the "sale of certain mobile communications and computer devices and components" infringes on nine Apple patents.

"Legal claims followed by multiple counterclaims are commonplace, and they can drag out the legal process for some time," Neil Mawston, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK in January. "It seems Nokia and Apple have been unable to agree on licensing terms in private over the past few months, so both firms have resorted to legal action in public courts as a next step."

Apple has also sued HTC over patent infringement, alleging violations of 20 patents related to the iPhone's interface, architecture and hardware. In a March statement about that suit, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their original technology, not steal ours." Earlier, other Apple executives used similar language to describe the Nokia suit.

HTC plans to vigorously contest the suit. On April 27, the manufacturer entered into an IP (intellectual property) agreement with Microsoft to license the latter's patented technology for use in its smartphones running Google Android. The move could give HTC substantial leverage in its Apple fight.

In theory, Nokia could cut a similar IP agreement with a software or hardware manufacturer to help limit Apple's complaints. But the expansion of its Apple target list to include the iPad implies a strategy based on opening as many legal fronts as possible. That aggression, combined with the lengthening history of legal entanglement between the two companies, suggests the conflict will not be over any time soon.