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Nokia takes hit in High Court priority-calls patent battle

Battle goes on, lawyers drool over war-chests

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The UK High Court ruling on Nokia's infringement of patents held by IPCom has both sides declaring victory, which is jolly friendly but not entirely accurate.

The latest chapter in the ongoing dispute, which goes back to 2007, falls largely in IPCom's favour in dismissing Nokia's various attempts to have the patent invalidated. The judge's ruling does agree that Nokia's more recent innovations bypass the patent, though IPCom reckons that also puts Nokia handsets outside the 3G (UMTS) standard.

The patent in question relates to prioritising users, enabling a class of users (such as the emergency services, or members of the Illuminati, or any other group) to gain priority access to the network. IPCom claims that it's impossible to make a 3G phone without infringing its patent, Nokia says that's simply untrue, and both companies agree that the battle is far from over.

The patent in question - UK patent number 1 841 268 - was filed by Bosch back when it cared about telephony. IPCom GmbH (not to be confused with IP.Com) bought the patent and started trying to extract an estimated €12bn from Nokia in licence fees.

Since then Nokia has complained, unsuccessfully, to the European Commission, and last year the UK High Court ruled two contested patents were invalid. But IPCom successfully amended one of the patents, making it less broad in its claims, and now the High Court has decided that Nokia has been in breach of that patent.

Whether Nokia is still in breach is more open to question. Nokia handsets originally used a mechanism for priority which is termed A1 for reference: that has now been declared in breach of the patent.

For the N96 the company tweaked the system, terming the tweak A2: A2 has also been declared in breach. These days Nokia has a range of solutions, dubbed B, C, D, E, F, and G, which Mr Justice Floyd (presiding) has specifically ruled as not infringing on the IPCom patent.

IPCom also attempted to get the judge to rule that its patent was essential for phones complying with the UMTS (3G) standard - something the judge declined to do as it wasn't pertinent to his decision on the validity of the patent.

That's not stopped IPCom claiming that its patent is essential to the 3G standard, a claim Nokia explicitly rejects. IPCom also says it will be seeking an injunction on Nokia phones being sold in the UK, though if Nokia's claims that the current handsets don't use A1 or A2 are true then it seems unlikely that such an injunction would be granted.

Nokia says it will also appeal against the decision, specifically the ruling that the patent is valid. During this case Nokia tried to argue that the patent wasn't obvious, that it was a natural development of existing standards, that in modifying the patent IPCom added matter broadening its the cover, and that the patent was insufficiently detailed to be valid anyway.

Those arguments were rejected by Mr Floyd, but that won't stop Nokia repeating them on appeal.

Both sides seem well funded, which seems increasingly important in patent cases these days. So it's likely this one will run for a few years more before we see only one side able to claim victory. ®

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