Nokia filed a lawsuit against Apple today alleging that the iPhone violates 10 different patents owned by Nokia. Nokia claims that the technologies, ranging from speech coding to security to wireless data transmission, have been used in every iPhone since the iPhone has existed, so what is the motive behind suing now?
The Finland-based mobile phone giant--with a comfortably dominant 45 percent share of the smart phone market--claims that these same patented technologies are licensed and paid for by 40 other tech companies and it feels that Apple is infringing on its patent rights by not doing so as well.
I understand that individuals and organizations should be able to protect their intellectual property and investment in developing innovative solutions. Nokia claims to have invested nearly $90 billion over the past 20 years on research and development for these and other patented technologies.
The suit illustrates the issues faced by an antiquated patent and trademark system trying feebly to adapt. The speed at which new technologies are developed has left things like patent and copyright law in the dust and exposed weaknesses in those systems which need to be corrected to meet the needs of the Internet era.
When it comes to technology, patents are frequently awarded which are far too broad or vague for any practical application. In essence, patents are awarded which, depending on the interpretation, could be applied to virtually any technology.
Microsoft frequently faces such patent disputes, and sometimes initiates them. It is battling a suit from Canadian software development company i4i related to the use of XML within Microsoft Word. The patent seems broad enough though that it could potentially be applied against XML itself. On the other side of that issue, Microsoft has also initiated its own battles claiming patent infringement by rival open source operating system Linux.
I haven't seen the 10 patents in question in this case, so I can't speak to how valid Nokia's claim of patent infringement is. The patents could be specific and legitimate, or they could be another example of the sort of vague patent wording that leads to patent trolling law suits.
I will say this though-- why now? Nokia claims the patent violations have existed since the iPhone was introduced back in mid-2007. Why did Nokia sit on that knowledge for more than 2 years and choose this point in time to initiate the law suit?
I have some theories. Apple may be in 3rd place in the worldwide smart phone market-- on its way to 4th place as it is displaced by Android, but in the United States the iPhone is in 2nd place, and as Apple opens up iPhone distribution in China it will become a greater threat on the global market. Its possible that Nokia is beginning to feel more heat from the iPhone.
Coincidentally, this is the week that Apple released its latest quarterly financial details which showed record Mac and iPhone sales driving record quarterly profit and helping Apple stock to reach a new all-time high. Nokia may be hoping to both steal some of Apple's thunder and capitalize on the apparent influx of cash Apple has.
It seems to me, based on the timing of the suit and the fact that Nokia didn't seem bothered by the alleged patent infringement for the past two-plus years, that the lawsuit is more related to strategy and posturing than an actual concern on the part of Nokia.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.