Ever since the Apple iPhone burst onto the cellular phone scene years ago, the mobile phone industry has been scrambling to create a competitor. There have been some failed attempts, most recently by the Blackberry Storm, which failed miserably to approach iPhone sales numbers. Nokia, the largest Smartphone manufacturer, has been at odds with Apple since Day 1. Recently, Nokia continued its legal activities against Apple, suing the iPhone manufacturer in Delaware federal court for alleged patent infringement.
Nokia’s action comes after a previous patent suit in the same state. It mimics a complaint Nokia filed before the United States International Trade Commission in Washington D.C. that accused Apple of violating Nokia’s hold on intellectual property relating to cameras and touch-sensitive equipment with its iPhones and MacBook portables.
Apple’s public response is that Nokia is simply looking to use its patent portfolio to gain leverage to license Apple’s computing patents. This time around, however, the company from Finland says that Apple stole patents that make Nokia unique. When the infringement suit was filed last week, Nokia issued a press release that said “virtually all of [Apple’s] mobile phones, portable music players, and computers” infringed on Nokia’s patents.
Nokia boss Rick Simonson spoke with the Economic Times of India and went on the record that by 2011, Nokia will be on par with Apple and RIM (Blackberry) in Smartphones. He went on to state, “Not only [will] we draw level with them, we will also win the war because, in addition to email, we will be adding content, chat, music, entertainment and several other features, which will soon become very critical for success of any company in this space.”
The patents that are in contest between Nokia and Apple are quite broad. Many industry experts believe that the court procedures are a smokescreen to get Nokia in the news. Take a look at some of the patents below, identified by their U.S. Patent and Trademark Office number:
· 6,073,036, “Mobile station with touch input having automatic symbol magnification function,” filed in 2000, interpreted as a fairly obvious description of how a touch-screen system works.
· 6,262,735, “Utilizing the contents of a message,” filed in 2001, which goes into detail about a command that can be sent to a device through the user’s touch on a “character-based message,” which relates to how a touch-screen display operates.
· 6,518,957, “Communications device with touch sensitive screen,” filed in 2003, which is a very broad way to describing a phone that has a touch-screen that can be disabled when required.
· 6,895,256, “Optimized camera sensor architecture for a mobile telephone,” filed in 2005, which is more board language describing the process of putting a lens and a sensor into a camera to create a digital camera phone.
· 6,924,789, “User interface device,” filed in 2005, which interprets to any keypad built during a standard capacitive touch-screen that can accept input commands by touching keys or “sliding a finger.”
Nokia clearly might be overplaying its hand here, as it’s quite nebulous how any of these patents infringe on its technology explicitly. How a digital camera, capacitance-based keypad, and a touch-screen directly affect Nokia’s line of Smartphones will be in the hands of lawyers and judges to decide.
Apple has weighed the complaints from Nokia and filed a counter-suit in December, claiming that Nokia is infringing on 13 different Apple patents. Bruce Sewell, Apple’s General Counsel and Senior VP said, “Other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not by stealing ours.”
One of Nokia’s top Smartphones is the Nokia N900, which offers “Extreme Speed” and “Outstanding Performance,” while retailing for $569. You guessed the interface, a gorgeous touch screen that offers the ability to surf the web, merge your phone and contacts, and also do your e-mail and calendar tasks. On top of that, it has a media player, a Carl Zeiss optical lens, a five megapixel integrated camera, and the latest Ovi Maps for the Maemo platform (the operating system). The N900 works with nearly all GSM network providers in the United States, which include T-Mobile, AT&T, and small regional providers.
Will the legal battles that Nokia embarks on in 2010 be worth the trouble? With Apple counter-suing Nokia and no real financial gain realistically in sight, Nokia might be waging a war of attrition to get into the headlines.