The battle between Nokia and Apple over the design of future miniature SIM cards for mobile phones has escalated, with Nokia threatening to withhold essential technology for Apple's template, impeding the rival proposal.
The two technology companies are each vying to have rival Subscriber Identity Model-card designs recognized by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) as the industry standard for the "nano-SIM," a much smaller SIM card that is expected to come into use as phones become smaller and slimmer.
Nokia has, however, complained that Apple has abused the ETSI selection process, and claimed that Apple's proposed standard does not meet ETSI's requirements.
In an aggressive move, it has threatened to withdraw around 50 SIM card-related patents from ETSI if the Apple proposal is approved. This would not affect companies already making other types of SIM cards, but would prevent anyone from building a SIM card to Apple's design.
"We believe that Apple is misusing the standardization process, seeking to impose its own proprietary solution on the industry and using ETSI merely to rubber stamp its proposal, rather than following established principles and practices," said Henry Tirri, executive vice-president and chief technology officer at Nokia.
"Nokia is not willing to contribute its own IPR to the standard, if the Apple proposal is selected in violation of ETSI's rules. Nokia holds more than 50 patent families covering SIM related technologies that we believe may be essential to Apple's proposal. We have informed ETSI that, if Apple's proposal is selected, then Nokia will not license its relevant patents to that standard," Nokia said.
A vote on which standard to adopt will take place on Thursday.
Nokia's alternative design is backed by Research In Motion Ltd. , maker of the BlackBerry, and by Motorola Mobility, which Google Inc. is buying. However, Apple last week increased the number of votes it had within ETSI to 183 by registering European subsidiaries to become members, giving it more votes than any other member, around double the number that Nokia has.
Nokia has questioned whether it is right that one group may obtain a large number of votes by filing multiple membership applications.
Apple offering to license its proposed template on a royalty-free basis. Florian Mueller, an independent patent analyst, said this would make the Apple nano-SIM considerably less expensive for mobile phone makers.
"The industry will have to make a decision. They will have to look at what Nokia and Motorola are proposing to charge in royalties and decide if it is worth it in terms of the differentiation they would get from the standard," Mr. Mueller said.
"However, if the standard decision goes in Apple's favour, Nokia could really hold up the process because we would be likely to see a court battle over whether Nokia has an obligation to license the patents or not. Some of those that might have voted for Apple might say that they don't want to take their chances on a long litigation with Nokia," he said.
ETSI declined to comment on Nokia's licensing threat. Apple said it did not wish to comment ahead of the ETSI vote.