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Nokia sues Apple (again)

Finns to match Apple 'by 2011'

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Nokia has beefed up its legal challenge to Apple, filing a second patent-infringement lawsuit against Cupertino in US District Court in Delaware. This time around, the Finnish outfit says that Apple stole patents that make Nokia unique, including patents for a camera phone and a touch-screen display.

The suit comes on the heels of the Finnish phonemaker's filing last week of an infringement claim against Apple with the US International Trade Commission. At that time, Nokia issued a press release that said "virtually all of [Apple's] mobile phones, portable music players, and computers" infringed on Nokia patents.

The USITC complaint was a ramp-up of Nokia's original suit against Apple, filed back in October - which Apple responded to in kind in the middle of December.

According to iPodnn, Finland's Taloussanomat has reported that the USITC complaint covers much of the same ground as the most recent Delaware lawsuit. Apparently, Nokia is trying to keep all its bases covered, both in court and in international trade tribunals.

With all these briefs and complaints being tossed back and forth, it can be hard at times to divine the reasoning behind them. Fortunately, Nokia's mobile-phone honcho Rick Simonson recently brought it all into focus when he spoke with The Economic Times of India. "By 2011," he said, "we will be at par with Apple and RIM in smartphones."

Simonson's confidence is impressive. "Not only [will] we draw level with them," he said, "we will also win the war because, in addition to email, we will be adding content, chat, music, entertainment and several other features, which will soon become very critical for success of any company in this space."

To "win the war," Nokia is taking at least one page from Apple's play book, cutting back on the number of individual devices it plans to offer, just as Cupertino has pulled ahead of it in smartphone revenue.

Another warlike strategy that the boys from Espoo are employing is cluster bombing with multiple legal challenges. Their recent patent-infringement filing, for example, is a multi-pronged affair, attacking seven specific patents that Nokia believes Apple is infringing upon.

A quick scan of the seven patents mentioned in this recent lawsuit reveals that some of them - listed below in order of the dates they were grated and identified by their US Patent and Trademark Office number - are quite broad indeed:

  • 6,073,036, "Mobile station with touch input having automatic symbol magnification function," 2000, which is a rather straightforward description of how a touch-screen display works
  • 6,262,735, "Utilizing the contents of a message," 2001, which describes a method in which a command can be sent to a device by the user touching a "character-based message" - pretty much how any touch-screen display works
  • 6,518,957, "Communications device with touch sensitive screen," 2003, which in equally broad language describes a phone with a touch screen, of which part can be disabled when required, such as when holding the phone to your ear
  • 6,714,091, "VCO with programmable output power," granted in 2004, which describes a method for reducing power losses in a phase-locked loop by using a microcontroller-equipped voltage-controlled oscillator
  • 6,834,181, "Mobile communication device and related construction method," 2004, which describes a method of combining a mobile phone's antenna and speaker in the same chamber to improve bass response
  • 6,895,256, "Optimized camera sensor architecture for a mobile telephone," 2005, which in what appears to be quite broad language describes an integrating a lens and sensor to comprise a digital camera
  • 6,924,789, "User interface device," 2005, which appears for all the world to simply be a keypad built using a standard capacitive touch screen that can accept input by touching keys or "sliding a finger"

The interesting thing about this collection of patents is that Nokia identifies them as "implementation patents" and differentiates them from the patents in its earlier lawsuit, which it defined as "essential patents" - meaning patents from which industry standards can be derived.

As Nokia explains in the lawsuit, these implementation patents "are particularly important to Nokia's success because they permit Nokia to differentiate its products from those of its competitors."

Exactly how Nokia's patents for a digital camera, touch-screen interface, and a capacitance-based keypad differentiate its phones from millions of other handhelds flooding the world's markets will be up to lawyers to argue and a judge to decide. ®

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