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Nokia And Apple Bury The Hatchet, Settle Patent Suit

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There really may be some truth after all to CEO Stephen Elop’s claims that Android is enemy number-one for the struggling Finnish handset maker. Today, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) announced that it has settled all its patent litigation with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), including the respective complaints that the two had filed with the International Trade Commission. Details are thin on the ground right now but it looks like Nokia is the financial winner in this one.

In a statement from Nokia, Elop noted that Apple will be paying Nokia for use of its patents. “We are very pleased to have Apple join the growing number of Nokia licensees,” he said. “This settlement demonstrates Nokia’s industry leading patent portfolio and enables us to focus on further licensing opportunities in the mobile communications market.”

Nokia says that it owns some 10,000 patent families — having invested some €43 billion ($61 billion) in R&D over the years.

Details, as mentioned, are somewhat thin, but patent blogger Florian Mueller thinks that even if some money was paid in turn to Apple from Nokia, it is a net win for Nokia. “I believe it’s a cross-license with Apple being the net payer in recognition of Nokia’s superior strength,” he said to me in a written exchange. “By superior strength I mean in tactical and strategic terms. Injunctions against Symbian wouldn’t have been impactful in 2012.”

The two mobile phone giants have been locked in disagreement over patent infringement since 2009 and have filed suits and countersuits with the ITC as well as the Federal Trade Commission and in Europe. The attacks have come consistently over that time — with the latest, another ITC complaint by Nokia, happening as recently as March.

People had long thought that the chief smartphone battle might well be between these two giants — that goes back as far as 2007 when Nokia tried to compete on Apple’s terms with a retail store effort (that didn’t turn out too well, with the store closing less than a year later).

But Elop had said in an interview earlier this year that Apple was not the company’s biggest competitor: Android and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) were.

Why would Apple have settled now? It’s enticing to think about how this case might relate to others that Apple is facing — for example against Samsung, and potentially against Lodsys if it is granted the right to participate in its case with developers. Licensing patents from one place could be a good defense against patent attacks from another.

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