Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

iPhone vs. the world: Four Apple patents shot down by staff, 24 to go

November 4, 2010: 10:57 AM ET

Reports of a big win for Nokia in its patent fight with Apple may be premature.

Florian Mueller, who has forgotten more about high-tech patents than most of us will ever know, says we should take with a grain of salt what Bloomberg, Reuters and the IDG News Service are reporting about Apple vs. Nokia, the patent trial that opened Monday before the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington.

The ITC staff has recommended (and the judge is likely to rule) that Nokia (NOK) shouldn't be found liable for violating four of Apple's (AAPL) patents, a development that was reported as a big win for Nokia by all three news services.

It is a setback for Apple, says Mueller, but only a minor one. These are just four of dozens of patents with which Apple has sued Nokia, HTC and Motorola (MOT) -- the last two proxies for Apple's larger battle against Google (GOOG) and its Android operating system.

Moreover, the four patents that the ITC staff has ruled on are far from the most important ones. As Mueller writes in his FOSS Patents blog:

Even if those four patents are invalid or valid but not infringed by HTC and Motorola, Apple would still have 24 different patents in play against those companies (some of them against both rivals simultaneously): 6 against HTC before the ITC; 8 against HTC in Delaware; 6 against Motorola in the Western District of Wisconsin; and 10 against Motorola in Delaware if Apple makes (as I venture to predict) counterclaims against Motorola's request for declaratory judgment. In those other disputes, the likely crown jewels of Apple's smartphone patent portfolio will play a key role.

For a detailed analysts of the intellectual properties at stake, see Mueller's post here.

UPDATE: The IPC announced Wednesday that it has agreed to hear Motorola's case against Apple, filed in October, which claimed 18 of its patents had been infringed. Apple countersued last week, citing the 6 touchscreen patents Mueller mentions above. In her report on the IPC's announcement, IDG's Nancy Gohring repeats her claim that "Apple looks unlikely to prevail in its ITC complaint against Nokia" based on Monday's staff recommendation.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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