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Judge rules for the Finns in Nokia/InterDigital spat

Verdict could trigger InterDigital licence apocalypse

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A US International Trade Commission judge has ruled that Nokia is not infringing four disputed patents owned by InterDigital, paving the way for the Finns to walk away from the lengthy spat come December.

The ruling is an Initial Determination that won't be confirmed until December. But it is a win for Nokia in the long running dispute, that has seen last-minute deals and an English High Court hearing in amongst strong words and various proclamations of imminent victory.

InterDigital owns various patents pertinent to wireless communications, some of which the company claims are essential to the production of 3G handsets, but most of which have been contended over the years. Samsung paid off InterDigital back in November last year, but that followed InterDigital's failed attempts to get Samsung handsets banned from import into the US on the basis of patent ownership.

This battle with Nokia goes back to 2005, with Nokia's pre-emptive strike against InterDigital ending up in the English Courts in an action that saw 31 disputed patents reduced to four, and an undisclosed sum changing hands (from the Finns to InterDigital) to close the UK action in December 2007.

But four months earlier InterDigital had already started moving the theatre of operations into the US, with a complaint to the International Trade Commission (ITC) calling for Nokia's 3G handsets to be blocked from import there. That complaint triggered an investigation, on which the judge ruled on Friday last week.

The Initial Determination is one that InterDigital will contest, but it clearly has InterDigital's CEO rattled, as he was quick try and reassure investors.

"While we are disappointed with the [judge's] determination, the patents asserted in this case represent a very small fraction of our total 3G portfolio", he stated.

Or, as Nokia puts it: "We believe this initial determination by the ITC, combined with earlier UK court decisions, provide a strong indication that the asserted value of InterDigital's 3G patent portfolio may have been overestimated".

The final ruling won't come until December 14, and InterDigital will fight all the way, pointing out that much of the 3G industry is already paying them for licences. But it is hard to imagine that many of those companies will renew their contracts if Nokia wins this case. ®

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