How do we know we're years away from a final resolution to the Nokia / Apple patent lawsuit? It's been six months since Nokia first filed its complaint, and the two parties are just now starting to argue about which specific substantive claims they're eventually going to argue about. Let's do a quick refresh: at the heart of the lawsuit is a conflict over Nokia's wireless patents, some of which are almost certainly essential to how cell data and WiFi operate. As a member of the ETSI and the IEEE licensing groups which oversee GSM and WiFi, Nokia's required to license its patents to anyone who asks on fair terms, but those terms aren't set in stone -- Nokia can negotiate separate licenses as it sees fit, and it apparently wanted Apple to cross-license its touchscreen patents as part of the deal. Apple said no, and now we're all in court, with both sides alleging patent infringement in three different lawsuits (one of which is on hold) and Apple claiming that Nokia is also liable for breach of contract, because it promised fair licensing terms and didn't deliver. Got all that? Right.

So that brings us to yesterday, when Nokia asked the court to dismiss all of Apple's contract-related claims, saying that they're simply a distraction from the real issue, which is patents, and that its license offers aren't unfair simply because Apple doesn't like them. In short: Apple and Nokia's patent lawsuit is currently not really about patents at all, but about whether or not it should also be a fight about contract terms in addition to a fight about patents, and that question won't be resolved for months. And that's why vigilante justice is the future of America's tarnished civilization something like 90 percent of patent cases eventually settle out of court.

P.S. Oh, and in case you're wondering, today Reuters reported that the first trial date isn't expected until 2012. So, yeah.

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Nokia asks court to dismiss part of Apple patent lawsuit