It's one thing to sue a big company like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) or Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) for allegedly illegal antitrust behavior. But Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is taking that concept to a whole 'nother level. The Finnish mobile phone giant is suing an entire industry for 10 years of price-fixing.

A lawsuit filed in Federal court in California points the finger on 11 manufacturers of LCD panels, accuses them of colluding to keep prices artificially high over a decade-long period, and asks for treble damages and a punitive spanking on top of that. The suit names heavyweights such as Samsung, LG Display (NYSE:LPL), Philips (NYSE:PHG), and Hitachi (NYSE:HIT) -- pretty much the entire LCD industry.

Nokia's case is supported by the results of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into LCD price-fixing. Three companies pleaded guilty to the charges and paid out a combined $585 million in fines last November. And here begins a slippery slope, in more ways than one.

  • If Nokia gets settlements or fines from some or all of the targets, you'd have to assume that pretty much any company selling gadgets with LCD screens would want some pie as well. Luckily for the LCD manufacturers, many of the gadget builders also make screens, which cuts down on the masses of prospective complainants. Unfortunately, that's far from the entire screen-equipped playing field, and the combined damages could be massive.
  • The damage to Nokia itself is very hard to estimate, because the company probably passed the extra costs -- or at least a large portion thereof -- on to its customers. In other words, you could argue that this really should be a class action lawsuit, where any payouts would take some pain out of your pocketbook and mine.

Nokia isn't the first company to launch its legal eagles on the LCD industry. AT&T (NYSE:T) filed a similar suit last month. Depending on the results, it might not be the last, either.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Intel, Microsoft, and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Motley Fool Options recommended calls on Intel and a diagonal call strategy on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.