December 16, 2010 / 1:40 PM / in 7 years

Nokia expands patent row with Apple in Europe

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Nokia, the world’s top cellphone maker by volume, has opened new fronts in Europe in its patent war with iPhone maker Apple, launching lawsuits in Germany and the Netherlands.

The 13 new complaints for using Nokia’s technology are part of an escalating battle between the two rivals in the smartphone arena that started more than a year ago when Nokia filed its first case in the United States.

Apple, which was not immediately available for comment on Thursday, has also sued Nokia over patents in the United States and Britain. It remains engaged in patent disputes with Motorola Inc, HTC Corp and other mobile phone vendors using Google Inc’s Android operating system.

Apple’s iPhone and devices running on Android have carved out a large chunk of the lucrative and quickly expanding smartphone market, in large at the expense of Nokia, which has stuck mainly to its old workhorse Symbian software.

“Nokia is on its back foot and may see any potential legal fight as a way of striking back at Apple,” said Neil Mawston, analyst at research firm Strategy Analytics.

“Patent fights are becoming an increasing part of the landscape with companies seeking any strategic advantage possible,” he added.

Seeking to regain its footing, Nokia hired former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop as chief executive three months ago. He is expected to provide his new vision for the company in February.

Nokia’s shares have fallen 15 percent this year as its share of the smartphone market sank, while the Stoxx Europe 600 Technology index has gained 13 percent. It has also struggled with the roll-outs of its latest answers to the iPhone -- the N8 and the E7 models.

LOSING ON MARKET

On Thursday, research firm IDC said Nokia continued to lose ground to Apple and Google in the third quarter in its home ground in Western Europe.

Market leader Nokia’s sales rose only 4 percent in the region from a year ago, while Apple’s sales doubled in the quarter and it rose to rank No. 3 in the region after Nokia and Samsung Electronics.

“Quite possibly, the end game for Nokia is not so much damages it might collect for patent infringement, if in fact it can prove such infringement, but the true goal is to stop the juggernaut that Apple has been for the last few years,” said Anthony Michael Sabino, professor of law and business at St. John’s University in New York.

“Apple has laid siege to the entire tech industry, and this is one way of fighting back,” Sabino said in a statement.

Nokia’s U.S.-listed shares rose 0.3 percent to $9.89 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Apple gained 0.4 percent at $321.71 on Nasdaq at mid-afternoon.

Nokia’s new filings accuse Apple of breaching Nokia’s 14 patents related to several technologies, including the touch user interface, on-device app stores, signal noise suppression and modular structure.

Analysts expect the legal tussle to drag on for years.

“These cases often take a long time to settle and may well involve further countersuits from Apple. The real winners are probably the lawyers,” said Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd.

Additional reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York, Jussi Rosendahl and Tarmo Virki in Helsinki; Editing by Will Waterman, David Cowell and Richard Chang

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