Apple counters Nokia in war of patents

Apple filed a countersuit against Nokia, alleging patent infringement. The stalemate is unlikely to yield benefits for users

Apple's response to Nokia's claim that the iPhone infringes on technology patents held by Nokia is "two can play that game". Apple has countersued Nokia, claiming that the world's largest mobile handset maker is infringing on as many as 13 patents held by Apple.

Nokia filed its suit against Apple in October, asserting that the iPhone has infringed on 10 different Nokia patents since it was released in 2007. Nokia claims that 40 other technology companies are paying licensing fees to Nokia for these same patents, which cover a range of technologies including wireless data, and security and encryption, among other things.

Apple has not disclosed which patents Nokia is allegedly infringed. The entire battle, though, highlights once again the issue of technology patents. Vague patents that apply broadly to widely-used technologies like GSM, CDMA, or LTE wireless networking protocols could arguably be used for patent-trolling suits against any wireless technology company.

The technology we use today is the result of a continual evolution of concepts and tools. Each generation builds on the one before it in a Darwinian fashion--technologies that work are incorporated and adapted, technologies that don't work become extinct.

Of course, companies that invest billions, or tens of billions of dollars, on research and development and arrive at groundbreaking new solutions deserve to be compensated for those efforts. The challenge is to ensure that the patents are written in a way that clearly defines what is being patented and not in a way that can be interpreted to broadly apply to entire industries.

Countersuing seems to be legal strategy 101 for responding to patent lawsuits from competitors. Rather than defending the use of the allegedly infringed patents, you just find some of your own patents that can be construed as being infringed by the company suing you.

The resulting legal stalemate eventually results in a settlement of some sort where the two entities drop their respective lawsuits and agree to cross-license each other's technologies. The whole thing becomes a wash and everything returns to the status quo.

If either Apple or Nokia actually prevails in this battle, there could be a trickle-down effect on smartphone pricing. The handsets distributed by the losing party could increase in price to incorporate the additional cost of any licensing agreement or penalties awarded.

The potential impact for business smartphone customers in this case, though, is minimal. Like Nokia and Apple's lawsuits against the LCD makers, these patent lawsuits offer little promise of cutting smartphone costs--at least for users. There is also little hope that the legal wrangling will result in any advance in smartphone technology.

At the end of the day, Apple is still firing on all cylinders, riding record profits from the iPhone and the Apple App Store, and Nokia is still challenged with declining revenue and market share.

Tony Bradley tweets as @PCSecurityNews, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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