Nokia’s patent victory against Apple

iPhone Nokia claimed some technology in the iPhone infringed its patents

At last, a victory for Nokia against Apple. The settlement of the long-running and complex patent battle between the two technology giants is a rare piece of good news for the Finnish company - and its shares hauled themselves off the canvas this morning as a result.

But what this story really shows once again is how one phone, the iPhone, has proved the undoing of a company whose dominance seemed unassailable just four years ago.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the touchscreen device in 2007, Nokia seemed relaxed about Apple's arrival in the market - it was after all only going to be a niche player, serving the tiny segment of the market interested in smartphones.

Nokia was the industry's acknowledged leader, not just in market share but in innovation. Just look at two videos, put on YouTube a few days after the iPhone launch.

They show a couple of concept phones, apparently promising a far more sophisticated touchscreen future than Apple was offering.

A caption says the videos "are exploring futuristic concepts and potential new ideas that may or may not be produced in years to come."

The trouble was, for all the ideas, Nokia failed to turn the inventiveness of its engineers into one compelling product in the same way that Apple managed with the iPhone.

As first Apple, then Google's Android, showed that easy access to the mobile internet was the future of phones, the giant of the industry appeared asleep at the wheel.

So in 2009 the Finnish firm launched its patent broadside, accusing Apple of trying to get a free ride on its innovation with the iPhone.

Among the technologies it accused Steve Jobs and his team of "borrowing" were wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption.

Now the patent battle has been sorted. Apple's statement talks of an agreement on "a license covering some of each others' patents, but not the majority of the innovations that make the iPhone unique." But, as Apple is paying royalties to Nokia, it seems clear who is the overall winner.

Nokia may now hope to reach more licensing agreements with other phone-makers, and we should not underestimate just how lucrative the patents on all that technology developed in Finland over the last decade could still prove.

Stephen Elop has been struggling to convince the market that his campaign to get Nokia off its "burning platform" and into a profitable future making Windows Phone 7 handsets is on course.

Now he has won a breathing space, with the Apple deal promising a slight lift in Nokia's dismal financial performance.

But Nokia's CEO should be more focussed on driving home the lesson of the iPhone. It's not enough to invent cutting-edge technology, it's not enough to be able to predict what consumers will want a couple of years ahead.

You need the design and marketing skills to combine hardware and software into a product that will make people go "wow", rather than "whatever".

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    87. "Someone posting here could almost assumed to be working for Nokia."

    As opposed to the BBC, who may as well change their name to ABC (Apple Broadcasting Company) given the amount of coverage given...

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    In what sense is the iphone "one phone"?

    The 5 apple phones that have been released so far don't even all have the same name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Someone posting here could almost assumed to be working for Nokia.

    I wonder where the moderators are and how many postings one poster can make before this comments system becomes a pseudo-advertisment for Nokia?

    This is very bad moderation at best

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I had always bought Nokia. Then I went to buy a smartphone, was warned off buying Nokia since they had pulled the plug on Symbian. With the iPhone being unavailable on a sensibly priced contract, an HTC Android was the obvious choice.

    Nokia who have been left selling basic feature phones until Windows phones are ready, for which there may a very slow market. Risky.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    there was once a good Nokia phone
    its was called Nokia 9210
    It was successful, because it was a Businessman's phone
    expensive, but way ahead of it's rivals

    now there are no such phones
    they are all toys, full of gimmicks, made cheaply of light flimsy plastic

    there is a market
    for a new lightweight, slim, tilt screen mobile phone
    which looks and acts like a computer
    with a LARGE 6.5 " keyboard

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Oh come on Rory! You show us an advert for the Nokia 888. Was it ever built? Did it ever get beyond the "concept" phase?
    A blog or so ago you accused Apple of being too broad in its patent suits. How broad was Nokia's? "We had an idea where you could touch a screen and make things happen"?

    iPhone succeeded because it's NOT a phone. It's a hand-held computer that makes calls. Don't you get i

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    I needed a charger for a Nokia phone in the office - two years ago everyone would have one.

    Now - I couldn't find anyone with one - that to me shows the difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Disclaimer - I'm not a Fanboi, but I currently own an Iphone and I'm happy with it.

    Nokia has and does produce some nice phones. I've owned a few Nokias in my time. I've also owned a few Windows Mobile devices. With the recent WP7 sales figures, I reckon Nokia's partnership with Microsoft will bury it. Nokia lost it's way and WP7 came too late to the game - it didn't really provide anything new.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Nokia will always be in the shadow of the iPhone now, this cost will just be passed to us.

    I put the problem not down to being to slow to react but manufacturing lots of different handsets, all with different specs and features. Apple are offering the best you can get at this moment in time with 1 phone. People don't want to make the wrong choice, so the choice has become simple. Buy an iPhone

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    There are clearly a few very good phones on the market and this suggests that the technology is pretty much interchangeable.
    It also suggests that Apple really only lead in marketing - they've created an impression that their products are superior when these patent squabbles demonstrate that the technology contained in them is actually quite common.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The article does have a point.
    Nokia was too slow in realizing people want the ability to see the 'proper' internet on their phones - which needs a touchscreen device with pinch zoom.
    Beats manouvering around silly little WAP sites with a thumbpad.

    However, Nokia phones still have better reception, call quality, cameras etc - they will no doubt bounce back now the interface is sorted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    @75: Some of what you say may be true, but if anyone is at fault it's the patent examiners. You can't really blame companies for filing dubious applications when the commercial stakes are so high, but it's the UK/US/EU etc patent offices who grant them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    God for you, Nokia! Even though I have an iPhone, I think Apple is both too arrogant and too big for its boots!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The patent situation is insane. So many bogus and trivial patents are granted... there's even a patent on *toast*!

    It's time people started going to jail for fraud, for filing trivial and obvious patents. Software patents *hinder* innovation. It's time we got back to doing real work and making real progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    "Nokia failed to turn the inventiveness of its engineers into one compelling product"

    Funny, my Nokia smartphone works just fine, as do the hundreds of millions of other phones they sell.

    Yes, Nokia are no longer the only company. But that doesn't mean they are failing. If it was Apple who were in Nokia's place, you'd be going on how they were there first, and all others copied.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    If using patents is a sign of desperation, then why don't you say the same thing about Apple's use of patents? But no, if it was Apple suing, you'd be going on about how Apple were innovative, and others were copying.

    Nokia are still no 1 company in, sell 10 times Apple, who are about 5% of the market. ("Smartphone" category is ill-defined, but even there, Apple are still smaller than Nokia.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    continued: And I must admit to being very confused by the tone of the article. Nokia have won shedloads of damages from Apple, yet it is somehow presented as a victory for Apple ("But what this story really shows once again is how one phone, the iPhone, has proved the undoing of a company whose dominance seemed unassailable just four years ago."). Very odd. Apple have effectively admiited IP theft

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Contrary to popular belief, Nokia have announced that support for Symbian will last until 2016, so it is certainly not dead yet. And having used various iOS devices (not the iPhone) and a Symbian^3 phone, the excellent N8, I know which I prefer for it's overall power; Symbian wins hands down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    zioncornerstone presents such an eloquent and rational argument for the superiority of Symbian that I feel compelled to give it one more try. I wonder how much I'll be able to get for my bumper sellotaped anti scratch screen brick?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Oh, and by the way, my wife worked for apple in singapore. Apple are in serious crisis now. Nokia know this. This is leaked information. But Apple are losing very fast, and rapidly against the competition. And Nokia especially in the middle east are far more popular than apple. People are buying more new Nokia's by far more than the 'bumper brick!' Nokia have found the way now, just some can't see


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