You will no doubt recall that soon after it was apparent to Nokia that Apple’s wildly successful iPhone was going to impact its potential earnings it instigated legal proceedings against Apple for infringing no less than ten Nokia patents on mobile phone technology. That was in December 2009.

“The patents cover wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption and are infringed by all Apple iPhone models shipped since the iPhone was introduced in 2007,” Nokia said in a statement at the time.

Two months later Apple announced that it was countersuing Nokia for infringing thirteen of its patents – slightly upping the stakes on Nokia’s ten. It looked like a game of ‘fool’s poker’ unfolding.

Well, a judge with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) has ruled in Apple’s favor on five of the original Nokia patent claims. However, there are at least two other cases yet to be heard. As well as the counter suits by Apple.

Judge James Gildea denied Nokia’s claim that Apple had violated five patents held by the Finnish company. The judge did not provide an explanation for his ruling and the full six-member commission now has sixty days to review his determination. In the past you could be certain that Nokia would go straight to appeal but with new CEO, Stephen Elop at the helm, there may be a different strategy. On the other hand, newly cashed up with Microsoft’s generous handout there may be added ‘incentive’ to have another go at the innovative mobile gadget upstart.

Back in 2009 I wrote, “It seems that Nokia’s only means of slowing Apple down is to handicap it with the weight of legal proceedings.  Surely it could have taken this action when the iPhone first came out?  Why now, and why not take every other manufacturer to court as well, surely they have also infringed something Nokia patented.  It does sound, initially, like ‘sour grapes’.”

Of course, Nokia did take on others, but one wonders what, if anything, has been achieved. Certainly, the legal fraternity, and there must be a cast if thousands living off these complex patent cases, will always advise taking action, but maybe it’s time for Nokia to concentrate all efforts in producing innovative new products and recovering lost market share.

If cases like this are not won the legal costs come straight off the bottom line. Of course, there is never any certainty of winning and the rewards vary from large payouts to cursory license fee recovery. Perhaps the real battle should be fought in the open market. In that forum it is certainly a case of the ‘best man winning.’ Those very same funds invested in innovative R&D will be paid back hundredfold, if not thousandfold.

It seems Mr Elop already has another tough choice to make. maybe it doesn’t matter with Microsoft acting as a guardian angel and potential acquirer.

Post Note: It didn’t take long for Nokia’s intentions to be made apparent. It has filed yet another complaint against Apple covering seven Nokia patents, which it describes as “pioneering innovations”. They cover such areas as multitasking in the OS, data synchronization, positioning, call quality and the use of Bluetooth.

Paul Melin, Vice President, Intellectual Property at Nokia said that “Nokia is a leading innovator in technologies needed to build great mobile products and Apple must stop building its products using Nokia’s proprietary innovation.”

Nokia claims that over the last 20 years it has invested a whopping €43 billion in research and development and currently has 10,000 patent families.

Seems quite strange that will this innovation Nokia couldn’t come up with a brilliant device like the iPhone. Maybe it should spend less time in the lab and more time talking to the market?