Apple and Nokia settle patent spat

The iPhone maker has agreed to license technology in the iPhone from Nokia, putting an end to a long-running tit-for-tat patent dispute but posing a potential cost to Android backers

Nokia and Apple have signed a patent licence deal, bringing an end to several patent infringement lawsuits between the two mobile device manufacturers.

iPhone 4

Nokia and Apple have signed a patent licence deal, bringing an end to several patent infringement lawsuits over technology used in products such as the iPhone. Photo credit: James Martin/CNET News

The agreement entails Apple paying a one-off fee, as well as on-going royalty payments for the duration of the deal, Nokia said on Tuesday. Specifics, such as how long the agreement will last, were not disclosed. As well as settling the patent litigation, the deal ends all outstanding complaints to the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

"Apple and Nokia have agreed to drop all of our current lawsuits and enter into a licence covering some of each others' patents, but not the majority of the innovations that make the iPhone unique," a spokesman for Apple told ZDNet UK. "We're glad to put this behind us and get back to focusing on our respective businesses."

The deal ends tit-for-tat patent complaints dating back to October 2009, when Nokia alleged that Apple had infringed on its patents for GSM, 3G and Wi-Fi technology in the iPhone.

In December 2009, Apple countersued Nokia, saying it had copied some of the patented technology in the iPhone. Two weeks later, Nokia lodged a complaint against Apple with the ITC that claimed key features in the iPhone, including the user interface and the camera, infringed on seven of its patents.

In January 2010, Apple asked the ITC for an immediate ban on Nokia imports into the US. That was followed in May 2010 by Nokia extending the scope of its original lawsuit to include the then-recently launched iPad. More recently — in January 2011 — Apple sued Nokia in the UK over touchscreen-scrolling patents.

Licensing deals

In its statement, Microsoft ally Nokia hinted that the ending of the long-running legal spat will clear the way for more technology licensing deals.

"We are very pleased to have Apple join the growing number of Nokia licensees," Stephen Elop, chief executive officer of Nokia, said. "This settlement demonstrates Nokia's industry-leading patent portfolio and enables us to focus on further licensing opportunities in the mobile communications market."

Even though Apple seems to have lost the legal battle, the result could still benefit the iPhone maker, according to Florian Mueller, founder of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign.

"Nokia emerges victorious, but this is a sweet defeat for Apple because its competitors — especially those building Android-based devices — will also have to pay Nokia, and most if not all of them will likely have to pay more on a per-unit basis because they don't bring as much intellectual property to the table as Apple definitely did," Mueller wrote on his blog on Tuesday. "From a competitive point of view, I don't think Apple loses much."

Apple still has outstanding cases against other handset makers for alleged patent violations. In November, Apple sued Motorola over the technology used in its Android devices, and it has taken Samsung to court over what it described as "blatant copying". It has also begun litigation against HTC concerning 20 of its patents. Counter filings have been lodged by each of these companies, claiming the iPhone uses their technology.

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