ITC takes Nokia's side in Apple patent battle

Trade commission staff urges judge to rule for Nokia in iPhone patent infringement dispute

Apple has not proved that rival phone maker Nokia infringed Apple patents, the staff of the U.S. International Trade Commission said in a pre-trial memo last week.

In the memorandum, which was written Oct. 27 but made public Tuesday, the ITC staff argued that, "the evidence will not establish a violation ... as to any of the asserted patents."

Both Apple and Finnish phone maker Nokia have petitioned the ITC to block imports of each other's smartphones based on patent violation claims.

Last January, Apple charged Nokia with violating several of its patents -- including ones related to power management, device booting and object-oriented graphics -- and asked the ITC to bar its rival from bringing phones into the U.S.

Nokia rebutted those claims in March 2010.

The trial, which kicked off Monday and may run into the middle of the month, will focus primarily on Nokia's N900, N97, N86, N8 and E71 smartphones, which rely on Nokia's Symbian operating system and Nokia's Qt cross-platform application development technology, the staff said.

Qt lets developers craft Web applications, then compile them for multiple platforms, including desktop and mobile systems.

In the heavily redacted memo -- which was also densely packed with technical details and analyses of each patent violation charge -- the ITC staff argued that some sections of the Apple's patents were invalid, while others were not infringed.

"The Staff is of the view that the evidence will not show infringement for any of the accused Nokia products," the memo stated in a section discussing Apple's power management patent violation claims.

The patent dispute between Apple and Nokia began over a year ago when Nokia filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. federal court, claiming Apple infringed 10 of its patents related to wireless technologies used in the iPhone. As it submitted that lawsuit, Nokia claimed that Apple was getting a "free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation."

Apple countersued in December, charging Nokia with violating 13 of its patents.

In December 2009, Nokia followed its first lawsuit with another that alleged Apple violated seven additional patents, then in March added the iPad to the list of infringing products.

Those lawsuits were put on hold while the ITC investigated the separate complaints from both companies.

ITC Judge Charles Bullock is currently slated to issue his preliminary ruling on the Apple complaint in February 2011, with a final judgment scheduled for next June after a six-member panel reviews Bullock's findings. If Bullock does rule for Apple, the ITC staff suggested that he only ban specific Nokia models from importation by issuing a "limited exclusion order, or LEO.

"Should a violation of Section 337 nonetheless be found, the Staff believes that the evidence will show the appropriate remedy is a limited exclusion order (LEO)," the memorandum stated.

Meanwhile, Nokia's complaint to the ITC isn't slated to be heard until later this month. The ITC staff has not yet published a position memo in that complaint.

Apple and Nokia are not the only mobile operating system vendors duking it out in court or before the ITC. Apple has sued HTC and Motorola over patents, Motorola has sued Apple, and Microsoft has sued Motorola .

Neither Nokia or Apple immediately responded to requests for comment about the ITC staff's position.

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Tags smartphonesNokiaApplesymbianPhonesconsumer electronicsITCMacintoshU.S. International Trade CommissionDRM and Legal Issues

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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