Nokia faces UK phone ban following patent ruling

Nokia, the beleaguered company selling its soul to Microsoft one bit at a time, has received some bad news today in the form of a High Court ruling that says it is infringing a patent with its 3G devices.

According to the ruling, Nokia is infringing a patent owned by the German intellectual property giant IPCom referred to as 'patent #100a' and more properly identified as European Patent Number 1841268. The patent describes a method of automatic prioritisation of traffic on a UMTS network, and is - the company claims - used in every UMTS-enabled handset in the world.

While the company has been chasing mobile phone creators for royalty payments, many had held off on signing on the dotted line in the hopes that the patent would be ruled invalid. Today's ruling by Justice Floyd in the High Court, however, appears to have scotched that plan.

"As far as we know, this is the first time that an essential telecoms 3G patent was ever upheld and judged infringed in the UK - a jurisdiction well-known for being very demanding for patent holders," claimed IPCom's managing director Bernhard Frohwitter.

"The recent settlement between Nokia and Apple strongly shows that Nokia - rightfully - expects competitors to respect Nokia’s Intellectual property, and that is exactly what we expect from Nokia for the Bosch inventions that IPCom owns," Frohwitter added.

The company is now waiting on the High Court's decision as to what remedies to apply in the case, and is hoping that Nokia's infringement could lead to a ban on the sale of all UMTS-equipped Nokia handsets in the UK. Such a move would give the Finnish mobile giant no choice but to agree to royalties and licence fees for IPCom's patented technology.

This isn't the first time IPCom has approached Nokia for payment on the patent: an earlier ruling in Germany found Nokia infringing the patent, after which the company developed a workaround that it hoped would bypass the patent altogether. That workaround has been deemed insufficient by Justice Floyd, however, which opens the spectre of further claims in international markets.

"This judgment on the workaround starkly demonstrates that Nokia tried to mislead the courts and the public on the impact of the German ruling on their business," Frohwitter claimed. "After many years of delay and obfuscation, Nokia is finally running out of road."

We have reached out to Nokia for comment on the case, but have yet to receive a response.

UPDATE 12:35

A Nokia spokesperson has told thinq_ that IPCom is sorely mistaken in its understanding of the judge's ruling today. "IPCom’s press release reflects a severe misunderstanding of Justice Floyd’s decision," we were told. "He ruled that Nokia devices, no longer on sale, which had older software versions (A1 & A2) infringed the amended patent but that newer versions B-G, incorporating our workarounds, did not infringe the amended patent. As our current products do not infringe the amended patent, there can be no injunction against them and we can continue selling those products.

"IPCom’s assertion that the patent covers 'a mandatory element of the UMTS standard' … 'used in all UMTS phones' is also inaccurate," the company added. "UK operators provided statements to the Court to confirm that the feature had never been implemented in UK networks. German operators have confirmed that the same is true for networks in Germany."

Nokia has signalled its disagreement with the court's decision that the IPCom patent is valid, and has told us that it is planning to appeal the ruling.