Last week, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) was shot down by the International Trade Commission in a patent infringement complaint against Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). The commission didn't see Apple doing anything wrong, sending the Finnish mobile phone guru to the appeals process.

While that batch of alleged patent breaches goes on a detour, Nokia reloads its guns and tries again with another helping of intellectual property problems: The company has filed another patent infringement claim against Apple. Some of the court cases are churning through the American legal system, but other battlegrounds include Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

Nokia's intellectual property chief, Paul Melin, says that the company now has a total of 46 patents involved in legal actions against Apple. "Apple must stop building its products using Nokia's proprietary innovation," Melin says. The latest filing involves iPods, iPhones, Macs, and iPads -- any court-ordered injunction to stop shipping or selling the items under dispute would essentially stop Apple's entire product catalog dead in its tracks.

Given the enormous financial implications of an action like that, U.S. courts are highly unlikely to take such a drastic step. Whatever the final outcome, the patent system will probably come out worse for the wear: If Apple wipes the floor with Nokia in all 46 claims, you'd have to wonder how effective the patent protections are to begin with. On the other hand, an all-out Nokia victory would raise questions about the innovation process involved in improving on existing technologies. Any shades of gray in between will be attacked from both sides of the argument.

Settlements would erase many of these questions but are made less likely by the presence of Apple archrival Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) in Nokia's corner. I'm not saying that Mr. Softy runs Nokia by the double proxy of an ex-Microsoftie in the CEO chair and a wholehearted commitment to the Windows Mobile platform, but ... well OK, maybe that's exactly what I'm saying. And in that case, you can expect Nokia to stick to its legal guns in the tragic style of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That is, no retreat and no surrender.

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