Published: 2 May, 2012
As the mobile phone market matures, and revenues and profits desert all but the largest players, there is far less innovation and many vendors are turning to the law courts for competitive advantage and incremental revenue. Since its advantageous settlement with Apple in 2011, Nokia has stayed aloof from the IPR wars, despite its huge patent holdings, but now it has changed its position and has filed suit against HTC, RIM and Android tablet maker Viewsonic.
It is going after the weaker members of the herd - HTC and RIM are, like Nokia, fighting to claw back market share from Apple and Samsung, but they are relatively patent-poor compared to the Finnish OEM, which is attacking them in the main current arenas for mobile litigation, the US and Germany.
Nokia is citing 45 patents. In its statement it said: "Nokia proprietary innovations protected by these patents are being used by the companies to enable hardware capabilities such as dual function antennas, power management and multimode radios, as well as to enhance software features including application stores, multitasking, navigation, conversational message display, dynamic menus, data encryption and retrieval of email attachments on a mobile device."
Chief legal officer Louise Pentland added that the company has already licensed these standards-essential patents to more than 40 companies. "Though we'd prefer to avoid litigation, Nokia had to file these actions to end the unauthorized use of our proprietary innovations and technologies, which have not been widely licensed," she said.
Nokia has been restrained in acting aggressively on its huge patent holdings but when it has done so, it has had mixed results. In its Apple case, it won a settlement which included a recurring licensing deal and a one-time fee, and the payment was reported to be over $600m. But when the Finnish firm settled its long dispute with Qualcomm in 2008, it paid a one-off fee of about $2.3bn plus recurring payments, in a complex agreement which was nevertheless seen to have favoured the US firm.
Nokia's actions include a complaint to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) against HTC; cases against HTC and Viewsonic in the federal district court of Delaware; against HTC and RIM in the regional court in Dusseldorf, Germany; and against all three in the regional courts in Mannheim and Munich, Germany. All these venues are common ones for patent litigation.
Also in Germany, the Mannheim district court has confirmed a permanent injunction for Motorola Mobility - soon to be part of Google - against Microsoft's Windows 7, Xbox 360, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. These have been found to infringe two of Motorola's video compression patents, related to the H.264 standard, but the ban will only come into force, under German law, if the device maker applies. It is prevented by an associated US judgement from doing that until the similar US case is decided, and in any case, it is unlikely to take such a drastic step.
Microsoft said in a statement: "Motorola is prohibited from acting on today's decision, and our business in Germany will continue as usual while we appeal this decision and pursue the fundamental issue of Motorola's broken promise." The last point relates to European probes into whether Motorola is breaking commitments to support Frand (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing terms for patents which are essential to standards. Microsoft argues that its antagonist sought to charge it far higher fees than other players.