Sun, Nov 09, 2014 - Page 13 News List

Nokia assails Apple VirnetX victory

A STEP TOO FAR:Regulations on patent litigation have constantly changed over the past 10 years, and some have said patents are now too easily achievable


Smartphone maker Nokia Oyj has become both a friend and a foe to one-time nemesis Apple Inc when it comes to patents.

Nokia, once the world’s largest smartphone maker, said US courts are going too far in rolling back intellectual property rights.

In one case, it supports Apple’s right to block the sale of products that infringe patents.

In another, it contends an appeals court was wrong to throw out a US$368 million damage award against the iPhone maker.

The company’s recent court filings underscore the split among technology companies over how to curb abusive lawsuits — some use the pejorative term “patent trolls” to describe litigants — without undermining rights to inventions that have been linked to more than US$763 billion in US sales every year.

“You’re seeing pushback that things are going too far, too fast,” McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff patent lawyer Paul Berghoff said. “The general drumbeat in the press about patents is the patent system is broken, patents are too easy to get.”

Nokia, based in Espoo, Finland, sold its mobile phone business while retaining the patents.

The company’s position on patent rights contrasts with some Silicon Valley companies, including Google Inc, maker of the Android operating system that runs most of the mobile phones in the world.

Google and networking company Cisco Systems Inc are among companies that want more done to lessen the number of expensive patent suits.

They have the ear of US Republicans in Congress, who have pledged to pass legislation next year when they control both houses.

Nokia said it was not trying to take sides in either of Apple’s underlying disputes.

The two companies have their own legal history — in 2011, Apple and Nokia settled a two-year battle over patent royalties for mobile phones.

“We believe that in some areas the pendulum appears to be swinging too far in one direction,” Nokia spokesman Mark Durrant said in an e-mail.

On Sept. 16, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered a review of how much Apple should pay for infringing VirnetX Holding Corp’s patents covering networks to allow remote access to computers.

In a filing on Thursday, Nokia urged the court to take the unusual step of having the case heard before all active judges.

Nokia in a filing said the Federal Circuit had come up with an “unworkable” standard on how to determine the value of a single feature in a complex electronic device.

Last month, Nokia sided with Apple in a different case, calling for a halt in sales of some Samsung Electronics Co products a jury said violated Apple patents.

Nokia said in a filing on Oct. 31 that the ruling could set a standard leading to compulsory licensing of patented ideas to all competitors.

The rules for patent litigation have been in flux for about a decade, with limits placed on what types of inventions qualify for legal protection, and new ways to challenge patents outside the courts.

Apple is part of a group that supports some limited legislative changes while warning that too much could hurt the US economy. Other members include Microsoft Corp, Pfizer Inc and General Electric Co.

“The details differ as the decades roll by, but there is no perfect balance point,” Berghoff said. “Somebody’s ‘strong patent rights are spurring innovation’ is someone else’s ‘strong patents are causing litigation.’”

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