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Apple loses patent fight to Nokia-linked troll

MobileMedia, which owns three patents originally granted to Nokia and Sony, wins surprise Delaware ruling against iPhone


Published: 14 December, 2012

READ MORE: US | Apple | Nokia | Patents/IPR

Nokia is Apple's bugbear when it comes to its IPR war. It had to sign a major licensing deal, favorable to the Finnish firm, last year and now a US jury has issued a shock verdict against the iPhone maker, which was found to have infringed three patents issued to Nokia and Sony.

The Delaware jury ruled that the iPhone violates three US patents issued a decade ago - two to Nokia in 2000 and 2002, and the other to Sony in 2001. The two firms then transferred the assets to a shell company called MobileMedia in 2010 - a common tactic since the current wave of IPR wars began, allowing big names to attack rivals in court while hiding behind specialist units.

Indeed, in May Google filed a complaint at the European Commission accusing Nokia and Microsoft of hiding behind patent trolls - which a recent US study found to have initiated the majority of IPR lawsuits this year for the first time. MobileMedia has already sued Google, HTC and RIM as well as Apple and the latest verdict will presumably make those players more ready to settle.

This latest decision highlights the troll issue, and also another increasingly disturbing hallmark of the current patent wars - the broad, even generic nature of many of the technologies at issue. These three patents are extremely wide in scope and include 'method and apparatus for incoming call rejection'; 'device for personal communication, data collection and data processing… also comprises a camera unit'; and 'communication terminal device and method for controlling the connecting state of a call into a desired connection state upon a predetermined operation by a user'.

Commentators say that, in the early 2000s, the US Patent Office was inclined to grant patents for almost anything, and this is allowing cash-strapped companies to try to profit now.

The jury has not yet awarded any damages against Apple, nor has the iOS giant said whether it will appeal.

Back in May, Google filed a complaint with the EC and the US Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Microsoft and Nokia were funding patent trolls in order to weaken Android's position and deter vendors from using it, because of the fear of high licensing fees or litigation. "Nokia and Microsoft are colluding to raise the costs of mobile devices for consumers, creating patent trolls that sidestep promises both companies have made," Google said in a statement at the time. "They should be held accountable, and we hope our complaint spurs others to look into these practices."

One transaction which had caught Google's attention was the acquisition of 2,000 wireless patents and applications from Nokia by Canadian licensing firm Mosaid, in September 2011. Mosaid is sharing the revenue from the IPR with Nokia and its key partner Microsoft. Nokia also sold 450 patents and patent applications to Sisvel in January.

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