Nokia faces new Qualcomm fight

Telecoms company Qualcomm has opened a new front in its patent war with Nokia, lodging a complaint against the Finnish handset maker at the US International Trade Commission.

If successful, Qualcomm could ban Nokia handsets from the US for infringing six of its patents.

In October 2005, Nokia complained to the European Commission about the price of Qualcomm’s patent licences. In November, Qualcomm filed a suit against Nokia in San Diego over the alleged infringement of a dozen patents.

The dispute between the two companies centres on the problem with using patented technology in telecommunication industry standards.

Qualcomm owns the rights to ‘code division multiple access’ technology, which is used by the mobile phone industry as the European standard for third-generation telephony. Handset companies using the standard must pay Qualcomm for a licence.

Patent expert Morag Macdonald, co-head of IP at Bird & Bird, commented: “The real story is not that it is a specific case of interest. What is important is that all of a sudden patents have become so important to this industry.”

While the telecoms industry was developing first and second-generation technologies, there were fewer standards and fewer companies with patents able to license the technology to manufacturers.

The proliferation of standards and mobile companies has made the issue of using patented technology in industry standards more contentious.

Nokia’s licensing agreement with Qualcomm expires in April next year. The ITC will hear the case in the first half of next year.