Apple practices 'legal alchemy' to mask IP theft, claims Nokia

Apple trying to divert attention from patent dispute with antitrust charges, Nokia argues in federal court

Nokia last week asked a federal judge to toss out Apple's antitrust claims, saying the iPhone maker indulged in "legal alchemy" when it tried to divert attention from its "free-riding" of Nokia's intellectual property.

The filing last Thursday was the latest salvo in a battle that began in October 2009 when Finnish handset maker Nokia sued Apple, saying the iPhone infringed on 10 of its patents and that the U.S. company was trying "to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation." Nokia demanded royalties on all iPhones sold since Apple introduced the smartphone in June 2007.

Apple countered in December with a lawsuit of its own that not only claimed that Nokia infringed 13 of its patents but that Nokia also violated antitrust law by using the legal system to attack Apple after it declined to pay what it called "exorbitant royalties" and refused to give Nokia access to iPhone patents.

It was the six non-patent claims by Apple that Nokia asked U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Sleet to throw out last week.

"These non-patent counterclaims are designed to divert attention away from free-riding off of Nokia's intellectual property, a practice Apple evidently believes should only be of paramount concern when it is the alleged victim," charged Nokia in the motion.

Nokia urged Sleet to dismiss Apple's claims. "Sometimes a patent dispute is just a patent dispute," Nokia said of its fight with Apple after licensing negotiations broke down. "Through what charitably could be called an attempt at legal alchemy, Apple employs revisionist history, misleading characterizations, unsupported allegations and flawed and contradictory legal theories to turn these fruitless negotiations into a multi-count federal lawsuit," Nokia charged.

Both Nokia and Apple have also filed infringement actions with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to block imports of each other's phones, and in the case of Nokia's filing, virtually every Apple hardware product, including iPods and Macs. A separate lawsuit, which covers the patents alleged in the ITC complaint, was put on hold two weeks ago by Sleet pending the Washington agency's ruling.

It will be some time before the original case is heard by a jury. According to a schedule proposed last week, the Nokia and Apple lawsuits won't go to trial until April or May 2012.

Apple has also sued Taiwanese handset manufacturer HTC for patent infringement. HTC makes Google's flagship Nexus One, as well as nearly a dozen other phones that rely on Google's Android mobile operating system.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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