Monday, August 3, 2015

Nokia completes next stage of transformation into patent troll with sale of HERE to automotive consortium

Nokia has just made the following announcement:

"Nokia completes next stage of transformation with agreement to sell HERE to automotive industry consortium at an enterprise value of EUR 2.8 billion"

The buyers are Audi, BMW, and Daimler. I once did a consulting project, unrelated to this transaction and more generally about IP strategy, for one of them (I closed my consulting business about a year ago, however, in order to focus on app development). It's a really positive sign that these traditional industry players decided to join forces (they're on better terms with each other than major smartphone makers, but don't coalesce every day) and to outbid the likes of Uber.

All three of them--I know their products fairly well because I've repeatedly bought cars from two of them and driven long-term rental cars from the remaining one--have a lot of work to do to defend their turf against Silicon Valley companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple (AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell is a great source on that secretive project). It's ridiculous that, for example, Mercedes doesn't even provide its customers (I'm driving a 2014 S-Class) with frequent software updates the way Tesla does. And I've seen massive user experience deficiencies in the user interfaces of all three of them, including stuff of the kind that is as crazy as the removal of the Start button from Windows was but would presumably get people fired (or never even hired in the first place) at a company like Apple.

For example, the list of recent destinations of my car's navigation system, which has an ultrawide screen (two, actually, but I'm speaking of the one relevant to this problem here), often displays the city and even the county before the street, which means that the street name doesn't appear (for space constraints, even on an ultrawide screen) until I select a list entry. That just makes no sense in a country in which streets have fairly distinct names and one rarely has destinations with identical street names in two cities. Another example: the same button that can be used to select a phone number while using voice control will get the entire operation aborted if you hit it again in order to dial, though you would use that very button to dial without voice control. These examples show that a company like Daimler may understand wheels and brakes, but hasn't (yet) figured out screen layout and user interface design. Today's announcement is not the only indication of progress. The Mercedes F 015 is also very exciting.

With the F 015 being many years off, my next car will most likely be a Tesla, and I will definitely consider an Apple or Google car once available. Still I hope that those automotive companies, who have now demonstrated that they increasingly invest in digital technologies, will learn about user experience up to the CEO level, will change their development cycles and business model so they can deliver frequent and free updates to customers, will dump fossil fuels before customers dump their products, and and will do all of that in time before companies like Apple, Google and Tesla will, in a hypothetical worst-case scenario, turn them into the next Nokia.

Talking about the Nokia we know, I think the headline of this blog post is an accurate modification of the headline of today's Nokia press release: the "next stage of transformation" here relates to Nokia's trollification. By selling the HERE mapping business, Nokia has divested yet another product business. It was a licensing business, but a licensing business in which customers got something real and functional, as opposed to paying up for overbroad and often invalid (at least that's what German courts thought when Nokia sued HTC and ViewSonic a couple of years ago) patents.

Nokia's acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent has received regulatory clearance in the U.S. and Europe. Today's press release says the deal is expected to "close in the first half of 2016." It would be nice if this resulted in Nokia again focusing a bit more on actual products, but I'm very skeptical.

I guess it won't take long before numerous former Alcatel-Lucent patents show up in various lawsuits brought by patent assertion entities (PAEs). No company in the industry appears to be nearly as active and agressive in connection with privateering as Nokia. In May, Nokia and Ericsson sought to justify their privateering ways after IAM (Intellectual Asset Management) Magazine wrote about this topic, citing this blog.

Audi, BMW and Daimler will probably be among the targets of such patent assertions, given that cars are increasingly smartphones on wheels...

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