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Apple 1 Nokia 1 – Apple draws level in ITC legal wins with Nokia

An initial determination by the ITC has it that Apple does not owe Nokia any royalties on 5 technologies

By PETER WHITE

Published: 31 March, 2011

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An initial determination by the ITC has it that Apple does not owe Nokia any royalties on 5 technologies. It is not a decision which will have Nokia losing much sleep and it has responded by filing another suit with the ITC over a further 7 technologies. There are already other suits in play, two in the US and three in Europe where Nokia alleges that Apple is not paying its dues to be in the handset vendor club.

The first hearing in front of a single judge, E. James Gildea described as an “initial determination” will be reviewed by 6 judges before being ratified and may well change.

This is one apparent reversal across a broad front from Nokia and we have to say that we are on the Finnish company’s side, because as much as we love Apple from a consumer point of view, it has invented precious little and solved virtually none of the problems of cellular in its meager R&D labs.

The judgment, in which Judge Gildea says Apple has no case to answer, is more of a tactical decision in our view, rather than a final one, and the case will now go before the full ITC bank of judges. Often ITC decisions are made purely to retain the status quo while the rest of its judges have the time to reach a decision collectively. The patents in question are not the most key patents for cellular, perhaps those are being tried in a patent court in Wisconsin, and were filed in May relating to technologies for enhancing speech, data transmission, using positioning data in applications and innovations in antenna configurations.

These instead are about Nokia patents for capacitive touchscreens dating back to the 90s, for lens filters and cameras on a chip, voltage oscillators, the way voice calls cut into what the screen is doing and merging antennas and speakers into one piece of technology to save space. Critically the Multi-touch patents of Apple would never be ratified in a European court, so Apple will have little to counterpunch with in Europe if any case there goes against it.

Back in November Apple itself was given a reverse by the ITC when a pre-hearing opinion was issued recommending that Apple’s attack on core device boot processes and issues related to power management, should be dropped. So far its one decision apiece in a long drawn out patents war.

This is a long game being played by Nokia and we maintain our view, that in the end Apple probably owes Nokia and many other patent holders quite a bit more of the iPhone revenue, but that this will not fatally affect the success or otherwise of the iPhone or iPad. None of these cases are really designed to come to court, but to apply further pressure on Apple to reach the kind of settlement that Nokia needs in order to design devices with impunity, incorporating the kinds of design improvements that Apple has brought to handset everywhere – not really patentable technologies outside the US, but considerable nonetheless, such as Multi Touch controls.

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