The patent battle between Apple and Nokia is likely still in its early stages, but the U.S. International Trade Commission has handed FInland’s Nokia an early victory, finding that evidence supplied by Apple did “not establish a violation” of Apple’s patents. If the finding sticks, it lifts the threat that the ITC might block importation of Nokia devices into the United States.
The request before the ITC concerned the way some of Nokia’s Symbian devices power up and manage power. In a pre-hearing memo, the ITC states that it some aspects of the patents Apple claims are being infringed to be invalid, while others weren’t being infringed at all by Nokia’s devices. The findings will not necessarily have any bearing on the outcome of patent infringement litigation between the two companies. Further, the memo doesn’t even necessarily represent the final opinion of the ITC: an ITC’s judge’s findings aren’t due to officially released until February 2011, and the judge’s findings get reviewed by a six-member panel that isn’t schedule to complete its assessment until June 2011.
The ruling represents one small step in a broad swath of litigation between mobile device manufacturers, and Apple and Nokia in particular. Nokia first sued Apple over its GSM implementation in the iPhone; Apple countersued, accusing Nokia of infringing on some 13 patents related to everything from user interface to handset startup, as well as extortion over licensing terms for Nokia patents. Nokia has fired back itself, claiming the majority of Apple products (including some Macintosh computers) violate Nokia patents, and has separately asked the ITC to ban importation of Apple products into the United States.
In the technology industry, patent battles of this nature can often take years to resolve, and the suits themselves are sometimes used as ways to apply pressure to companies in order to force a settlements. Even in the rare cases that patent lawsuits make it all the way to trial, the inevitable appeals process can extend battles for even more years. However, the flurry of lawsuit activity is an indicator of how seriously the companies involved take the mobile—and smartphone—industry. And all the lawyers’ fees involved help ensure technology stays expensive.