Terse statements this week from Nokia and Qualcomm point to a licensing dispute over Nokia's continued use of important Qualcomm CDMA patents.
In a report to US regulators on Wednesday, Qualcomm said a licensing agreement that allows Nokia to use Qualcomm's CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) patents expires in April 2007, and that there's no certainty a new contract will be signed by that time.
Without access to the patents, Nokia can't sell 3G (third generation) phones or other handsets, or network equipment, that use Qualcomm's CDMA technology - used in the US and elsewhere.
Analysts expect an agreement to be reached eventually, since the patents are seen as essential to Nokia's business. The handset maker may be creating noise in an effort to reduce the licensing fees it pays to Qualcomm, which some vendors have complained are too high.
In a brief statement Thursday, Nokia said it couldn't comment on the negotiations with Qualcomm due to "a nondisclosure agreement."
The Qualcomm filing likely indicates that the companies are struggling to negotiate the new contract, said Caroline Gabriel, an analyst with Rethink Research. "If Qualcomm feels they have to report this to investors, they must feel it's a real risk that it could cause a problem," she said.
Qualcomm's filing also noted that it would stop receiving royalty payments from Nokia if the contract isn't renewed. It will also have to stop selling some chips that rely on Nokia patents.
Nokia is among several companies that filed complaints with the European Commission late last year, charging Qualcomm with anti-competitive behavior. They accused Qualcomm of overcharging for the use of patents that it contributed to the 3G standard.
With that in mind, the filing from Qualcomm could indicate that Nokia is pushing hard to change the terms of its contract, Gabriel said.
"It seems logical that Nokia is trying to get the bill down and set a precedent for the whole industry," she said. Qualcomm has said in the past that it offers the same terms to all vendors, so if Nokia manages to negotiate its licensing fees down, the rest of the industry will benefit too, she added.
It's unclear, however, how much bargaining power vendors like Nokia have with Qualcomm. "If Qualcomm sticks to its heels and says no, take it or leave it, what can Nokia do?" Gabriel said. "It's not like Nokia can stop selling handsets."