On December 16th, Nokia sued Apple in Germany, Britain and the Netherlands for patent infringement over the use of a number of smartphone features, the latest blow in a legal struggle between the two rival corporations.
Among the patents Nokia is suing under are the finger-wiping gesture as a means of navigating a cellphone screen, the antenna structure used in the iPhone and the technology used for real-time access to an online app store. An individual smartphone can incorporate over a thousand of such patents.
Of particular interest to this lawsuit is the choice of courts. Germany in particular has a much quicker turnaround than US courts, sometimes turning a case around in 12 to 16 months instead of the years and years that it could take to deal with over here. Dutch courts have been known to issue injunctions across borders, and British courts would allow greater access to discovery, an invaluable tool for plaintiffs (and making it much easier to harass Apple with requests for information).
The intellectual property sniping among the smartphone manufacturers is entertaining to watch, at least. Motorola sues Apple, Nokia sues Apple; Apple countersues against Nokia. Are all these companies actually using the same intellectual property? Is patent litigation just a convenient tool for harassing and delaying your opposition in a cutthroat competitive market area?
There’s also the issue of what should be patentable. Patenting the navigation of a touch-screen or a real-time app store seems problematicly restrictive against other companies in the same market. Of course, restricting competition is one of the major benefits of having a patent in the first place. In any case, the resulting legal struggles provide plenty of entertainment for those of us who like to watch.