Nokia Hits Apple with Wireless Patent Infringement Suit [Updated]

Nokia announced on Thursday that it slapped Apple with a patent infringement lawsuit over technologies used in the popular iPhone. According to Nokia, Apple is infringing on ten different patents relating to GSM, UMTS and WLAN standards.

Nokia filed its case in Federal District Court in Delaware with the claim that Apple isn't paying licensing fees for the wireless technologies it uses in the iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS. The patents in question address wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption.

"Companies who contribute in technology development to establish standards create intellectual property, which others then need to compensate for," commented Ilkka Rahnasto, Nokia's Vice President of Legal & Intellectual Property. "Apple is also expected to follow this principle. By refusing to agree appropriate terms for Nokia's intellectual property, Apple is attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation."

Mr. Rahnasto's statement that Apple is "refusing to agree" implies that there may have been some level of negotiation between the two companies, but it could also mean that Apple is simply refusing to pay any licensing fees. The company said that it has already struck licensing agreements with about 40 other companies.

Just exactly what those agreements entail, however, is unclear. GSM, UTMS and WLAN are international standards, and the manufacturers that build radio components based on them are most likely paying fees to the appropriate standards management organizations already. The GSM standard is managed by ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), UTMS by 3GPP, and WLAN by IEEE.

In Apple's case, Nokia is more likely targeting how the technologies are being used in the iPhone. "This raises some interesting issues, because, while Apple may have designed and implemented some aspect of its circuitry in the iPhone, at least for some of the radios... Apple is buying off-the-shelf technologies that other OEMs have developed," an attorney familiar with this aspect of the law told The Mac Observer.

Assuming Apple is infringing, the company could sidestep future headaches by changing components that stay outside of Nokia's patents in future iPhone models.

Assuming Nokia is attempting to circumvent standards organization groups, the outcome of this case could impact how companies use standards-based technologies, at least in the United States.

"One of the essential purposes of the standards is that they exist to allow everyone, including Apple, to be able to develop competing cell phones and other devices by providing standards that everyone can use and innovate on," TMO's legal contact said. "If companies are able to successfully sue each other for infringement on anything but proprietary technology that doesn't affect the ability to use the standard, competition in the markets for cell phones and other devices will be significantly hindered."

Nokia claims that it has invested some €40 billion in wireless tech research and development, so it stands to reason that the company would like to recoup at least some of that by charging other companies fees for using its work. Whether or not Apple is responsible for any licensing fees is now working its way into the courts, which means it could be a very long time before the case is resolved.

[This article has been updated with additional information related to Nokia's lawsuit.]

[Thanks to TMO reader rattyuk for the heads up.]