InterDigital has filed complaints with the US International Trade Commission and federal court against Nokia, Huawei and ZTE, charging the companies with patent infringement.
InterDigital claims that the companies infringe seven of its patents in their 3G phones, USB sticks, mobile hotspots and tablets.
The company is asking the ITC to forbid Nokia, Huawei and ZTE from importing the relevant products into the US. It has also filed a complaint in the U.S District Court for the District of Delaware alleging that the three companies infringe the same patents.
InterDigital said it has tried to negotiate licensing deals with the companies but has failed to "reach an acceptable resolution."
Those talks are ongoing, thus the complaints come as a surprise to Huawei, said William Plummer, a spokesman for the company. "We have been and remain in negotiations with InterDigital related to the license of IP that might be relevant to our solutions," he said. "We're surprised that this process is being started while those talks are ongoing."
Nokia and ZTE could not be reached for comment.
The actions come shortly after InterDigital announced it was reviewing options for the company, including a sale of the business. Over the past year it has seen the value of intellectual property rise as mobile companies have begun to understand the value of such assets, it said. Both Google and Apple are rumored suitors.
InterDigital has around 1,400 US patents but claims to have a patent portfolio of 19,000 issued patents and patent applications worldwide.
The complaints are likely related to InterDigital's efforts to sell itself, said patent expert Florian Mueller in a blog post. "I believe that InterDigital wants to demonstrate that it holds patents that it declares essential to a host of 3G-related standards," he wrote. "This approach would make sense for InterDigital with a view to the objective of signing license deals with the defendants, but in the current situation the complaint may also be a statement directed at potential acquirers."
As competition in the mobile market heats up, the value of patents is indeed skyrocketing. Many of the largest companies in the mobile industry are engaged in patent infringement battles and the one with the largest portfolio tends to win. Apple has sued Motorola, Samsung and HTC over their Android products. Microsoft has persuaded HTC and others to license its technology for use in their Android products, and Oracle is suing Google over Android.
In addition, Motorola may be considering a way to better leverage its patent portfolio. And, a consortium of companies including Apple, Microsoft, Research In Motion and Sony recently submitted a winning US$4.5 billion bid for Nortel's patent portfolio.