Nokia Seeks Handset Licensing Partner in 2016

Nokia is taking a break from the smartphone market, but it doesn't plan on sitting it out forever. The handset maker confirmed Monday it's looking for a brand licensing partner to build its next phones, which likely won't see the light of day before the fourth quarter of 2016.

Robert Morlino, a spokesman for Nokia Technologies, put out a statement to address rumors about the company's future in handsets. Speculation resurfaced after Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) announced massive job cuts and a narrowing of its own device focus last week. (See Microsoft Restructures Amidst Nokia Flop and Eurobites: Nokia Quashes Handsets Rumor.)

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) still exists as a standalone company, but is focused on mobile network infrastructure, location and mapping services, and technology development and licensing. It may consider making mobile phones again, but Morlino says it will do so in a completely different way than before -- via a brand-licensing model in which a partner is responsible for all the manufacturing, sales, marketing and customer support of the products. (See Carmakers Closing In on Nokia HERE – Report and Nokia Slumps on Networks Malaise.)

"If and when we find a world-class partner who can take on those responsibilities, we would work closely with them to guide the design and technology differentiation, as we did with the Nokia N1 Android tablet," he writes. "That's the only way the bar would be met for a mobile device we'd be proud to have bear the Nokia brand, and that people will love to buy."

For more on mobile device and operating system strategies, peruse the dedicated mobile content page here on Light Reading.

Once the world's biggest mobile phone maker, Nokia hasn't been a major player in the Android and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) dominated market for a while now. Yet while the Finnish vendor doesn't have a smartphone pipeline, it is still looking to monetize its patents, technologies and once-iconic brand. Licensing can give Nokia a path to market without any of the heavy lifting.

Nokia may have more tablets in the near-term future, but -- owing to a contract with Microsoft -- Morlino said the soonest it will have another phone is in the fourth quarter of 2016.

This reiterates comments that Nokia CEO Rajiv Suri made almost a year ago, when it launched the Nokia N1 Android tablet. He said at the time that Nokia was also considering leveraging its brand for security systems, set-top boxes and other opportunities beyond devices, but reiterated that any licensing deal would take time. (See Did Nokia Really Just Launch a Tablet?)

He said then, "It will take time for opportunities to come to fruition -- 18-month negotiations, with litigation can take longer. I would suggest caution when it comes to timing."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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