Nokia's GPS patents may help resolve Qualcomm dispute

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Nokia Corp.'s patent licensing deal with Trimble Navigation Ltd. this week could give the phone maker an important boost in an ongoing dispute with CDMA developer Qualcomm Inc.

The deal gives Nokia a license for 700 Trimble technologies for delivering location-based services, as well as exclusive rights to sublicense them to other companies in the wireless industry. That means any company that wants to license Trimble's patents must now do so through Nokia.

Nokia officials stopped short of calling the deal just what it needs to end its acrimonious renegotiation talks with Qualcomm. But they acknowledged that it will strengthen Nokia's hand in licensing talks with all wireless companies that include GPS (Global Positioning Systems) capabilities in their products.

"It will improve our negotiating position," said Ulla James, director of intellectual property rights strategic marketing for Nokia.

Trimble has one of the biggest portfolios of patents for location-based technologies, and any company that offers such capabilities will now need to talk to Nokia, she said.

Qualcomm integrates GPS capabilities in many of its chipsets, including its gpsOne product. The company has shipped tens of millions of such chipsets in the past few years, said Nitesh Patel, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics Inc.

"Given that Nokia can sublicense to whoever it wants to and on whatever terms it wishes to, it has a strong bargaining position with Qualcomm with respect to GPS," Patel wrote in an e-mail.

He cautioned that Qualcomm might already have a long-term contract with Trimble that could supersede the arrangement between Nokia and Trimble.

Qualcomm declined requests for comment, and Nokia would not discuss how the deal might affect its negotiations with Qualcomm specifically.

Nokia and Qualcomm are engaged in a bitter renegotiation of a patent licensing agreement that ends in April 2007. The companies license a variety of patents from each other relating to mobile phone standards. Qualcomm is well-known for developing the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard and Nokia patents contribute to the WCDMA (Wideband CDMA) and other standards. Qualcomm has launched several lawsuits against Nokia for alleged patent infringement and Nokia, along with five other mobile vendors, has filed an anticompetitive complaint against Qualcomm with the European Commission.

Nokia played down the significance of the April deadline. If the two sides don't reach agreement by then, they will both be able to continue selling their respective products in any case, James said. It is "normal practice" for two companies in a renegotiation process to continue selling products even if the contract expires, with an eye to settling payments once a new contract is agreed to, she said.

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