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'Patent trolling' InterDigital CAN ask ITC to ban Nokia mobes: Supreme Court

It might not make any PRODUCTS, but patent-lobbing's a business too

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Nokia has failed to get the US Supreme Court to rule that the International Trade Commission shouldn't hear cases involving companies whose business only involves patents, despite supporting evidence from Amazon, Red Hat, and HP – and to the delight of InterDigital.

Nokia recently lost an appeal in an ongoing court case against it by InterDigital, which is claiming royalties for Nokia's use of mobile phone technology for which InterDigital says it holds the patents.

InterDigital is pursuing court action against a wide variety of firms in various countries. But in the US, the International Trade Commission (ITC) offers an additional attack vector for wronged patent-holders: if infringing goods risk damaging a US business, then the ITC can ban their import to the USA while the court case rumbles on.

The Finnish firm's lawyers had asked the court to prevent InterDigital from pursuing an ITC case related to the use some of its standards-essential 3G patents in Nokia products, arguing InterDigital couldn't seek a ban on Nokia kit because it doesn't make any products of its own.

As Bloomberg explains the ITC can only act to protect a US business. If InterDigital wasn't doing any business in the US, Nokia's argument went, then it doesn't need the protection of the ITC and thus the ITC has no power to hear the case. The Supreme Court rejected this argument.

Given patent cases can last for years, a US import ban focuses the mind wonderfully and prevents legalistic prevarication by infringing companies who may just be playing for time in the hope the patent-holder will run out of cash.

Unlike other patent-holders which involve themselves frequently in litigation, InterDigital does its own research and development rather than simply buying, selling and defending patents in court.

Nokia's argument was that InterDigital conducts no business and thus can't be harmed by imports, backed by filings from Amazon, HP and Red Hat – assertions that InterDigital firmly contested.

Ultimately that argument proved irrelevant, as the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided a US business based on patent ownership is still a US business and can be protected by the ITC.

The Supreme Court is still working through another appeal which would enable those accused of infringing patents to claw back their legal costs if cleared, which would make litigants think twice before launching an action. ®

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