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UK court rules Nokia infringed patent, Finns party on anyway

Loses 'priority call' appeal in battle against IPCom

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A top UK court has ruled that Nokia's old 3G handsets infringed a telecoms patent owned by technology warehouse IPCom, which wants a ban on every mobile made by the Finns.

The Court of Appeal yesterday rejected Nokia's attempt to dismiss IPCom's case against it. The two companies, both of which claimed victory, continue to argue over the validity, applicability and utility of mobile phone patents originally filed by Bosch.

This latest ruling means that, in the eyes of UK law, Nokia's older handsets infringed IPCom's patent EP 1 841 268, but that's far from the end of the matter. The Finns are still hoping to have the patent invalidated at a European level, and got a ruling along those lines from European Patent Office last week - a ruling against which IPCom is appealing against.

If IPCom is successful then Nokia will be running out of places to go, but if the patent family is indeed ruled invalid at an EU level then its IPCom who'll be looking for alternative vectors of attack.

Not that it is bereft of options, the EP 1 841 268 is only one of the patents which IPCom acquired from Bosch when the engineering company decided to get out of mobile telephony. IPCom launched its case against Nokia in 2007 and both parties have been pissing money into lawyers' pockets since then.

The patent covers the mechanism used by a 3G phone to prioritise calls made by a specific group; so when the New World Order seizes control of Earth, Illuminati agents will be able to make calls despite our overloaded networks. That's part of the 3G standard (the priority, not the Illuminati), but the mechanism by which agents' phone identify themselves is open to patent. IPCom reckons that phones from Nokia, and just about everyone else, use a mechanism covered by its patent, or did until 2008 at least.

When Nokia launched the N96 it changed the way in which phones identify themselves, and since then the Finns have introduced half a dozen variations - some of which have been ruled as non-infringing. Nokia claims everything after the N96 is unencumbered, but IPCom disputes that and also reckons Nokia's refusal to share all the details of the new mechanisms (which are commercially sensitive) means it can't be certain Nokia isn't still infringing.

During the case against which Nokia was appealing the Finns argued that the patent was too obvious, that it was a natural development and that modifications made it too broad. The court rejected those arguments, Nokia appealed against that decision, and has now lost that appeal.

IPCom claims to be offering Nokia a FRAND (Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory) deal, but FRAND is normally reserved for patents that are essential if a device is going to conform to a standard, something Nokia fiercely disputes. FRAND is also normally a reciprocal arrangement between companies within an industry, but IPCom is in the patent-exploitation industry.

Next stage is the EU court, but if IPCom wins then Nokia will only be the first casualty of IPCom's ongoing business model. ®

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