Apple Sues Nokia. Who’s Next?

“We’re very, very comfortable with where we are competitively…we like competition, as long as they don’t rip off our [intellectual property]…and if they do, we’ll go after them.”

–Apple COO Tim Cook, January

Early this year, there was much speculation on the Web about the possibility of Apple suing Palm over the Pre’s use of an iPhone-like multi-touch interface. So far, the two companies have stayed out of court. But Apple has now responded to last month’s Nokia lawsuit over networking patents by countersuing the Finnish giant. It denies that it’s infringed Nokia’s patents–but says that Nokia has violated a passel of Apple user-interface patents. Intentionally. And unashamedly.

"In response, Nokia chose to copy the iPhone, especially its enormously popular and patented design and user interface. As Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's Executive Vice President and General Manager of Multimedia, stated at Nokia's GoPlay event in 2007 when asked about the similarities of Nokia's new offerings to the already released iPhone: 'If there is something odd in the world, we copy with pride.' "

Here’s Apple’s point-by-point response [PDF] to Nokia’s suit, which melds tedious legalese, Nokia-bashing, and bragging about the iPhone’s success.

I’m not a patent lawyer, so I’ll cheerfully steer clear of taking a side in this fight. But the fact that Apple is suing Nokia over using iPhone-like interfaces raises some interesting questions. Nearly every smartphone released since the original iPhone’s 2007 debut borrows from the iPhone, either a little (the Pre, Android) or a lot (“S-Class” LG phones such as the Arena LG-KM900.) To what extend does Apple think its parents render iPhone cloning illegal? Is it going to sue everyone, or just those who pick a fight, as Nokia did by suing first? Will smartphones get bogged down in lawsuits, like software did in the 1980s when there were lawsuits aplenty over applications that resembled other applications?

I’m in favor of intellectual property, but I feel a lot better when companies focus on making cool products, rather than squabbling before judges…

I also feel vaguely embarrassed by phones that crib too nakedly from the iPhone (although it’s probably possible to crib nakedly without violating patents, and to violate patents without cribbing nakedly). So I’m rooting for companies other than Apple to introduce user interfaces that are just as innovative as the iPhone’s was. So far, I’d say Palm’s WebOS remains the only next-generation phone OS that rivals the iPhone for fresh new ideas…

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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