Nokia claims rare victory in smartphone patent war

Apple will pay the troubled phone manufacturer royalties for technology in its iPhones. But it might not be entirely bad news...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 20 Oct 2011
A few months ago, Nokia chief Stephen Elop warned the company is standing on a ‘burning platform’ – and things haven’t got much better since, with the previously all-conquering handset marker continuing to lose ground at both ends of the market. But after a year of relentless gloom for shareholders, there was some positive news for once today: after two years, the firm has settled a long-running dispute with Apple over a raft of disputed patents the latter uses in its smartphones. Naturally, the settlement doesn’t involve any admission of fault on either side – but judging by the fact that Nokia will receive a one-off payment from Apple, followed by ongoing royalties, it’s pretty clear who the big winner was in this dispute. That said, this outcome might not actually be that bad for Apple…

The dispute started way back in 2009, when Nokia sued Apple for patent infringement over the technology behind the touchscreens, caller IDs, display illumination (backlighting, then) and 3G/wifi technology Apple used in its iPhones. Undeterred, Apple promptly counter-sued over exactly the same points, and the argument rumbled on and on. At one point, Nokia even tried to ban iPhones from being imported into the US.

The agreement, which is reportedly worth millions to Nokia, has come at a crucial time for the embattled company, which admitted in May that its mobile division will only just break-even this year. It’s confidential, so we don’t have the exact figure – but whatever it’s worth, it’ll provide a much-needed boost to the firm, which has struggled to keep up with fleet-footed competitors in the last few years.

Interestingly, though, it might not be a disaster for Apple, either. The company might have lost this battle, but the settlement now leaves rivals – the manufacturer of any phone using Google’s Android operating system, for example – open to similar claims by Nokia. And, by patent analyst (and all-round fun guy) Florian Mueller’s reckoning, ‘most [competitors], if not all of them will likely have to pay more [than Apple] on a per-unit basis because they don’t bring as much intellectual property to the table as Apple definitely did.’ So perhaps this could turn out to be a boon to Steve Jobs et al after all.

It’s not the first time this week Apple has been revealed to be using a rival’s technology. Yesterday, Apple blog InfiniteApple discovered the firm’s much-anticipated cloud offering, iCloud, is actually using Microsoft’s cloud offering, Azure, to store its users’ data. Which might surprise a few people, given the two companies might appear to be arch-rivals (although it’s by no means the first time they’ve co-operated).

Speaking of rival tech giants, there was better news for Facebook today, after all those stories yesterday about it losing users in developed markets (although it’s worth remembering that these figures are only very rough estimates). According to new figures by mobile industry body the GSMA, the Facebook app was the third most popular in the UK in April, behind only Google Maps and Yahhoo Weather – which come pre-loaded on Android devices and iPhones respectively…


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