The “careers” section of Qualcomm’s website lists 15 legal-related job openings in its San Diego headquarters office. The key word in most of those job titles: patent. Patent paralegal. Patent counsel. Senior paralegal in, you guessed it, the patent department at Qualcomm.

Qualcomm has, like no other company in San Diego, built its Fortune 500 business on an intricate system of patent licenses and cross-licenses. While making wireless device chips and software may be Qualcomm’s day job, royalties on the technology that Qualcomm licenses out are what pays the bills. At last count, Qualcomm had about 5,700 patents or patents pending.

Qualcomm spends a good amount of time defending those patents against companies big and small. Just look at its “Legal Newsroom,” which offers Qualcomm’s version of its various license negotiations and litigation.

Qualcomm is currently embroiled in a battle with Nokia, the world’s largest handset maker, over the terms of a cross-license deal that dates back to 2001. Qualcomm and Nokia had an agreement that expired this past Monday, and without a deal in place, the two are essentially violating each other’s patents.

Simply put, Nokia wants to renegotiate a new, lower price for the use of certain Qualcomm patents. Qualcomm thinks its royalty rates are fair.

Last week, Nokia said that after the deadline it would pay a portion of the sum

Qualcomm claims is due. Qualcomm had an interesting analogy for that. In a press release the same day, Qualcomm said:

Nokia has no more right to unilaterally set a price than the average consumer has a right to walk into a store, take a product off the shelf, and walk out with it after leaving only a fraction of the established price on the counter. Leaving some money on the counter does not make the act any less unlawful.

You can bet the larger wireless industry is watching this negotiation process. And it could have implications for consumers, too, given that costs have a way of rolling downhill.

If nothing is decided beforehand, the Nokia negotiation will no doubt be a topic of discussion when Qualcomm releases its second-quarter earnings. Qualcomm announced Wednesday that it will report earnings at 1 p.m. April 25, with an analyst conference call from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. that day.

So what’s your take on the Qualcomm/Nokia dispute? If you’re in the legal field, how do these kinds of battles typically work out? If you’re into technology, what are the implications for the industry?


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