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Apple Raises Stakes in Patent Duel With Nokia

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jan 18, 2010 12:48 PM PT

Apple has filed a complaint before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) requesting that it block Nokia imports to the U.S. The request follows a legal dispute between two companies that began in October when Nokia filed suit against Apple for patent infringement.

Apple Raises Stakes in Patent Duel With Nokia

Apple just upped the ante in what has become a high-stakes poker game with Nokia, Raymond Van Dyke, a partner with Merchant & Gould, told MacNewsWorld.

"ITC 337 cases are intense, and move at lightning speed compared to most other patent litigation," he said.

Mobile Tech Patents

Mobile technology is at the heart of the dispute between the two companies. In a complaint filed last fall in the U.S. District Court of Delaware, Nokia alleges that the iPhone infringes 10 of its mobile technology patents, including those for GSM, UMTS (also known as 3G W-CDMA), and wireless LAN (WLAN) standards covering wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption.

All iPhone models shipped since the device was introduced in 2007 are at issue, according to Nokia.

In December, Apple filed a countersuit against Nokia, also in the U.S. District Court of Delaware, alleging that the Finnish device maker infringed on 13 of its patents that touched upon real-time signal processing, teleconferencing and power conservation. Apple singled out the Nokia E71 as using Apple's technology -- together with any devices running on the Symbian platform or that come equipped with a built-in camera.

Apple and Nokia did not respond to MacNewsWorld's requests for comment by press time.

Playbook Perfect

So far, the legal conflict between the two companies -- including the charges before the ITC -- follows a typical playbook for intellectual property disputes.

Filing a claim before the ITC is an expected move, Christopher M. Collins, an attorney with Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, told MacNewsWorld. "The agency can order a block on the importation of the devices or components very quickly if Apple can provide its case."

What a filing with the ITC does, Collins said, is speed up the same process that is more slowly unfolding in the federal court system.

Indeed, an ITC ruling can be such a formidable threat that chances are Nokia will file its own complaint with the commission, Van Dyke suggested.

Both companies have substantial patent portfolios in the U.S., and both have U.S.-based economic rights at stake, he noted.

"As long as U.S. rights are involved, any company -- domestic or foreign -- can litigate in the U.S. International Trade Commission," said Van Dyke.

If that does happen, the ITC is likely to combine the two cases, he said. "By statute, most ITC disputes must be resolved within 12 months. It is highly likely that these actions will settle, or scores of lawyers will be working 24/7/365 for the next year."

There are some advantages to winning in federal court, said Alexander Poltorak, chairman and CEO of the General Patent Corp.

"In the federal court, a plaintiff can sue for damages and permanent injunction," he told MacNewsWorld. "In the ITC, the plaintiff can only ask for an exclusionary order banning the imports of the infringing products in the U.S. ITC cannot award damages."

There is no denying the power of the ITC in a patent dispute, though, he agreed. "Once an exclusionary order is issued by ITC, the plaintiff can file a customs survey, which will stop any imports of infringing products in the U.S. It is a very powerful weapon and is often used in conjunction with the proceedings in a federal court."

Another Win

In the meantime, Nokia reportedly has won a patent case in the UK against the patent licensing firm IPCom.

It is unrelated to its fight with Apple, save for the fact that Nokia was disputing claims by the German company that it used IPCom's patents.

IPCom tried to charge Nokia for the patents, according to news accounts -- a legal bid that proved to be unsuccessful, at least in this go-around. IPCom is reportedly planning an appeal.

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