Analysis: Nokia-Microsoft alliance is a win for Apple

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Net Work blog at PCWorld.com.

The marriage of Nokia and Microsoft is official. The smartphone alliance combining the Windows Phone 7 mobile OS from Microsoft with the mobile phone manufacturing muscle of Nokia could be a line in the sand leading to a brighter mobile future for both, or a final desperate swan song. Regardless of how it ultimately works out for Nokia and Microsoft, though, the partnership is good news for Apple.

Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst, commented, “For Nokia to bet on Microsoft’s new phone platform is an incredible vote of confidence but it is also a natural partnership given the various points of synergies. In the long run, Microsoft really needed a stronger hardware strategy to compete with Apple and RIM and to make headway against the ubiquitously sourced Android.”

This is just my own wacky conspiracy theory, but I have been watching since Elop left Microsoft to assume the reins of control over Nokia. Abandoning Symbian and embracing Windows Phone 7 seems like a well-orchestrated coup for Microsoft—a subversive takeover from the inside that conveniently provides Microsoft with a major smartphone development capacity without all of the financial and regulatory red tape involved in trying to actually buy Nokia.

Nokia President and CEO Stephen Elop at the announcement of the Microsoft-Nokia partnership.

The Nokia-Microsoft alliance is good news for Apple, though—legally speaking. Florian Mueller, a technology patent and intellectual property expert, explains in a blog post how Nokia’s decision to join forces with Microsoft could end the heated legal battle between Apple and Nokia over alleged patent infringement.

Regardless of the strategic advantages for Microsoft and Nokia resulting from this partnership—and my conspiracy theory notwithstanding—there are also legal benefits for Nokia. Had Elop chosen to jump on the Android bandwagon, he might have exposed Nokia to additional patent infringement charges and more lawsuits from Apple. By teaming with Microsoft, Nokia has a deep patent pool to draw from and can most likely bring its legal battles with Apple to a close.

Mueller says, “I can’t imagine that Apple would assert any of its patents against Windows Phone 7. Nokia is now covered by Microsoft as far as Windows Phone-based devices are concerned, and it’s been a long time since Apple and Microsoft had (and settled) a patent dispute. They need each other.”

While patent litigation has developed into a standard business practice and competitive strategy for tech companies, it uses up a lot of resources unnecessarily. Mueller sums up with, “I won’t venture to predict when Apple and Nokia will finally settle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it now happened within a matter of months.”

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