In the latest high-tech patent infringement lawsuit to wind its way through the courts, a federal jury in Delaware has found that Apple ripped off Sony Electronics and Nokia by using their patented technology to build the iPhone. The jury deliberated just four hours following a weeklong trial. The case was filed in 2010.
The verdict was a turnabout for Apple, which had successfully sued Samsung over infringed patents for its Android-based smartphones and tablets. The outcome of that case is still being litigated. Google, which created the Android mobile operating system, was also sued, by software maker Oracle but in a trial earlier this year a Northern California jury sided with Google.
Irreparable Damage or Obvious Stuff?
The patents in question in the latest trial were held by the holding company MobileMedia Ideas LLC, which enforces some 300 patents for Sony, MPEG-LA (a licensing group) and Nokia. MobileMedia argued that the infringements constituted "irreparable damage" to the holders while Apple argued unsuccessfully that the patents were not valid because the technology involved was obvious.
According to Bloomberg, a total of 14 patents were initially named in the suit but they were reduced to just three, one pertaining to image capture and transfer from a phone camera and the other two related to managing incoming calls. One of the patents belongs to Sony and two to Nokia.
According to a jury form posted online, jurors were asked if MobileMedia "has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence that each and every limitation of [the claims of the patent] is found in the accused Apple iPhones," and jurors checked "yes."
A separate trial before Judge Sue Robinson of U.S. District Court in Delaware, at a date to be announced, will determine any damages, but an appeal or an eventual agreement for paying royalties is likely.
So, will this be a big deal that sets back the iPhone's continued dominance of the smartphone market, or just a minor irritant for Apple?
"My guess is that it will be a minor irritant since it seems the patents in question are from the late 1990's," mobile industry analyst Weston Henderek of the research firm Current Analysis told us on Thursday. "So in theory, that would potentially reduce the impact."
Apple did not immediately respond to our e-mailed request for comment about the verdict in time for publication.
The verdict is a boost for Finland-based Nokia as it struggles to regain market share it has yielded to Apple and Samsung. Cupertino, Calif.,-based Apple's iPhone is the top-selling device in the world and South Korean Samsung is the top handset maker overall based on recent shipments.
Nokia hopes its agreement with Microsoft to use the Windows Phone operating system will boost its share of the global smartphone market.