A federal judge was found to own Apple stock while presiding over a Nokia case against the tech giant. However, it is unlikely that further legal action will be taken.
From 2009 to 2011, Apple and Nokia were involved in a bitter patent dispute. Both companies filed a number of legal complaints as well as regulatory challenges, in order to keep the competition in the smartphone market from getting too fierce. The issue was ultimately settled in June 2011, and while terms of the agreement were kept confidential, Apple was expected to make amends with a one-time payment and ongoing royalties.
According to a new court filing on Monday, a federal judge presiding over one of many scattershot legal volleys filed by Nokia-owned stock in Apple when the suit was lodged in 2010. In a letter dated August 27, Judge William M. Conley of U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin revealed the potential conflict of interests to both the parties.
Joel Turner, the chief deputy clerk of the court, writes that Judge Conley informed him that he was aware that he had stock in Apple while he presided over this case. “His stock ownership did not affect or impact his decisions in this matter.”
Although it is not clear how many shares Judge Conley owned during the case, any ownership of company stock would have required his recusal as per the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.
A Judicial Conference Codes of Conduct Committee advisory states that disqualifying factors must be reported as soon as they are discovered, even if it occurs after a judge has made a decision.
“The parties can then decide what relief they seek, and a court (without disqualified judge), will determine the legal consequences, if any.,” Advisory Opinion number 71, as relayed Turner.
Nokia and Apple are invited to respond by October 27 to Conley’s disclosure. However, the companies are unlikely not to take any action as the case is not an integral part of Nokia’s overall strategy.
The 2011 settlement was favorable for Nokia. Their phone business had dwindled and was sold to Microsoft before it was purchased by Foxconn. Nokia, once the dominant mobile phone manufacturer in the world, is no longer a major player in the mobile market. It has, however, licensed its name to smartphones built by HMD.
Nokia was more successful in court when it purchased and leveraged patents against Apple during a 2016 legal blitz. This led to a $2 billion settlement and multi-year IP licensing agreements.