Apple Offers Olive Branch in Battle Over Nano-SIM Standard

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There is a vote looming for ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) related to the nano-SIM cards that will drive the next generation of mobile devices. There is also a heated battle--between Apple on one side, and a coalition of Motorola, RIM, and Nokia on the other side--over what that standard will be. Apple is pushing hard for its technology, and it is reportedly making a peace offering it hopes will sway the opposition and win votes.

A blog post from Florian Mueller, a patent and intellectual property analyst, claims that Apple is prepared to provide royalty-free licenses to all Apple-owned patents essential to it’s nano-SIM proposal. This olive branch is meant to allay concerns over the implications of choosing a “standard” that is based on proprietary patents owned by Apple. The fear is that it could just be a tactic to eventually cash in.

ETSI will vote this week on standards for new nano-SIM cards that are smaller and thinner.
The concern certainly seems to have some merit. Apple is currently engaged in patent-infringement litigation around the world with virtually every major rival in the smartphone and tablet industry. Some see it as Apple’s right to defend its own intellectual property, while others see it as nothing more than a bullying tactic to try and unfairly crush competition. Either way, fears of future patent claims are valid.

There is a catch, though. According to the letter Mueller references--which is allegedly from a source Mueller believes reliable, but is not at liberty to disclose--the Apple olive branch comes with one condition: Apple’s proposal has to be adopted as the standard, and the other patent holders have to accept the same terms and reciprocate with royalty-free licenses for any proprietary technologies essential to the nano-SIM as well.

A recent post from Engadget, however, suggests that there is more to the nano-SIM war than patent licensing. Nokia claims that the Apple nano-SIM doesn’t even meet the ETSI requirements, and it believes that its nano-SIM is technically superior—it doesn’t require a tray or drawer in the mobile device, and it’s backwards compatible with existing micro-SIM slots. If Nokia and its cohorts truly believe their design is better, Apple’s gambit may not work.

But, Apple reportedly has the support of a majority of European operators, and putting a deal like this on the table may be all Apple needs to win the votes necessary to establish its nano-SIM design as the standard for next-generation mobile devices.

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