Nokia sues Amazon, HP over video compression technology

Finish tech firm Nokia is suing tech giants Amazon and HP over allegations of patent infringement related to a common video compression standard.

The lawsuits, filed in Delaware federal court on Tuesday, claim both companies violate certain patents held by Nokia covering digital videos that are compressed using the H.264 codec.

The format — which is also known as Advanced Video Coding, or AVC — was developed through a joint venture comprised of a number of different individuals and corporations, and was standardized by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the International Organization for Standards (ISO) in the early 2000s. It allows high-definition video files to be compressed to a size suitable for storing on a server and streaming to a user, without much noticeable degradation in quality compared to an uncompressed video file.

While numerous people helped develop the standard, Nokia says it holds certain patents related to how digital video compressed using the H.264 standard is delivered and decoded by a hardware or software receiver.

The patents were at the center of a legal dispute involving Lenovo in 2020, in which the computer maker claimed Nokia did not fully disclose its intellectual property interest to the ITU and ISO while the bodies were working to standardize H.264. That lawsuit was settled one year later, with Lenovo and Nokia agreeing on a cross-licensing agreement.

Now, the issue has flared up again, with Nokia putting Amazon and HP in the crosshairs.

In a complaint that spanned nearly 600 pages, Nokia accused Amazon of allowing customers of its Prime Video, Freevee and Twitch services to stream video content encoded in the H.264 standard and a newer one called H.265. The use of those standards were in violation of at least 15 patents held by Nokia, and when Nokia tried to license the technology to Amazon, its offers were rebuffed, according to the complaint.

The majority of Nokia's written argument against Amazon was spent offering specific details in how it came to determine the company was violating its patents. It included various examples that were gleaned from off-the-shelf evaluation software that attempts to spotlight Amazon's purported patent infringement in live videos transmitted through Twitch and on-demand movies, clips and trailers offered up through Prime Video and Freevee.

Nokia's legal complaint against HP was nearly identical, although in abbreviated form — it was only 130 pages long. While Nokia's complaint against Amazon concerned streaming video, its complaint against HP involved the company's desktop and laptop computers, which allegedly contained the same proprietary H.264 and H.265 technology. Nokia said it has tried to work with HP since 2019 on a licensing agreement covering the technology but, as with Amazon, the efforts went nowhere. Since then, Nokia says HP has sold "hundreds of millions of infringing products, but has paid no royalties."

The complaints against Amazon and HP were backed by more than 3,200 pages of legal exhibits, according to files obtained by StreamTV Insider from the U.S. Court docket. The exhibits include manuals published by the ITU concerning the standardization and implementation of H.264 and H.265, as well as certificates from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office affirming Nokia's legal privileges concerning its proprietary technology.

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. Officials at HP have not yet returned an email sent after business hours seeking comment on the matter.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Nokia told StreamTV Insider the lawsuits were meant to help the company earn just compensation for its patented technology, which it intends to reinvest in "developing next generation technologies."

"We hope that Amazon and HP will now accept their obligations and agree to a license, and our door remains open for good faith negotiations," the spokesperson said.

Resolving the situation with HP might be easier than with Amazon: While Nokia is suing HP in one jurisdiction, the company has taken out similar patent infringement lawsuits against Amazon in Germany, the United Kingdom, India and the European Union Patent Court — all territories where Amazon operates its Prime Video service.

In a blog post published on Tuesday, Nokia's Chief Licensing Officer Arvin Patel characterized the lawsuits as an avenue of last resort, saying the company prefers "amicable licenses" and affirming Nokia has at least 250 concluded or extended agreements with other tech firms like Apple and Samsung, each of which use the H.264 and H.265 codecs in their video services (like Apple TV+ and Samsung TV Plus) and hardware (like iPhones and Galaxy phones).

"We’ve been in discussions with each of Amazon and HP for a number of years, but sometimes litigation is the only way to respond to companies who choose not to play by the rules followed and respected by others," Patel wrote. "And let’s be clear: Amazon and HP benefit significantly from Nokia’s multimedia inventions."

Patel went on to describe the apparent "mismatch" between streaming video services that are part of a $150 billion-and-growing industry, and companies like Nokia who develop the technology that allows those services to function. He affirmed Nokia was the company that developed the user experience that allows streamers to fast-forward or rewind through a video "by scrolling through it," or re-optimize their video by turning their phone or tablet sideways.

"Companies providing video streaming services or streaming devices, enjoy huge benefits from the research and development conducted by Nokia and other innovators - without it their services and products would simply not work the way that consumers have come to expect," Patel said. After reaffirming Nokia's intent to reinvest licensing revenue into developing new video compression technology, he continued: "It is a virtuous circle, a wheel that has been turning for many years, powering innovation."