A patent that allows network operators to prioritise police calls over everyday network traffic is too broad to be valid, the European Patent Office ruled yesterday.
The judgment is a blow for the patent-holder – German firm IPCom - but will be a relief for beleaguered phone giant Nokia.
IPCom has been hounding Nokia through the courts in the UK and Germany for infringing on the telecoms patent #100a.
The hotly contested patent describes an algorithm that allows mobile telephone networks to prioritise users on the basis of a pre-defined hierarchy. So in emergencies, for example, police calls can get precedence over civilian calls. The patent was developed by Bosch in the '90s for their car telephony systems, but sold off to IPCom in 2007. [PDF]
IPCom won a ruling against Nokia in a Dusseldorf court yesterday over the patent, in Mannheim the week before and another in the UK in June 2011. IPCom is also suing Taiwanese phone-maker HTC for the same patent.
But the patent office revision could change the outcome of the legal battles. In the hours after the ruling in Munich, Nokia issued a bullish statement: "The EPO's decision means that yesterday's ruling from the Dusseldorf Court is not expected to stop the sales of Nokia products in Germany."
Paul Melin, vice president of Intellectual Property at Nokia, said:
We are pleased that the European Patent Office has confirmed that this IPCom patent is invalid. So far, of 62 IPCom patents that have come to judgment, none has been found valid as granted. IPCom needs to recognise its position and end its unrealistic demands for what remains of this significantly diminished portfolio.
IPCom said it would appeal the European Patent Office decision immediately, and stressed that the patent will remain in effect until the European Patent Office makes a final decision. IPCom pointed out that only one feature of Patent #100A (EP 1 841 268) had been ruled as being too broad.
Consequently, IPCom claims that its patent suits stand:
Today’s judgment does not impact the successful rulings regarding infringement proceeding against Nokia and HTC in Germany and UK. Furthermore, as Patent #100A currently remains in effect, today’s ruling has no impact on the already-initiated cease and desist orders against HTC.