Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Nokia won't take no for an answer

March 29, 2011: 8:28 AM ET

Told Apple had not violated 5 of its patents, Nokia filed a complaint about 7 more

The Nokia vs. Apple battlelines as of 3/27. Source: FOSS Patents. Click to enlarge.

The strange, prolonged patent dispute between Apple (AAPL) and Nokia (NOK) took another bizarre twist Tuesday.

Four days after an administrative law judge at the International Trade Commission in Washington made an initial determination that Apple was not -- as Nokia claimed -- in violation of five Nokia patents, the Finnish cellphone giant was back in court.

This time, the company alleges that Apple in "virtually all of its" products has violated seven Nokia patents "in the areas of multi-tasking operating systems, data synchronization, positioning, call quality and the use of Bluetooth accessories." (Press release here.)

Tuesday's filing was the latest in an epic intellectual property battle that began in late 2009 and has since grown to include as many as 75 patents in seven legal venues. On Sunday, FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller, who has been tracking the cases from the start, published the chart above showing the battlelines as of Friday's ruling and suggested that the dispute at the ITC could end up in a "goalless draw" in which neither side wins.

In an update filed Tuesday he writes:

Nokia's patent portfolio is roughly five times larger than Apple's. They both operate in the same industry resulting from the convergence of computing and communications technologies...

I can very well understand Apple's perspective. Apple looks at the innovative breakthroughs it achieved in recent years -- a period during which Nokia was poorly managed. But Apple has always and especially recently been a proponent of a strong patent system, and you just can't have your cake and eat it. Those patents are valid for up to 20 years, a long time in this industry. It's the name of the game that patents give a pioneer like Nokia a strategic advantage over a late entrant like Apple.

There are no signs of Nokia trying to drive Apple out of business with its patents: between two players of that kind, destruction would be mutually assured. The question simply comes down to who will be the net payer. Nokia appears to be very convinced that it brings the more powerful patent portfolio to the table.

See Escalation: Nokia files new ITC complaint against Apple (plus a corresponding federal lawsuit)

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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About This Author
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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