SEC is the only party who will likely be privy to the terms of closed-door deal

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has been quite active legally of late, carrying out a massive litigation war [1][2][3][4] [5][6][7][8] [9][10][11][12] with its top rivals who use Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android OS.  But back in June, Apple was in court-endorsed settlement talks in a separate legal spat with Finland's Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V).  

Formerly the world's top smartphone maker, Nokia was bumped out of first place by Apple.  But in court it looked on the verge of victory, so Apple opted to enter a cross-licensing agreement, which some estimated could involve hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing payments to Nokia.

But here's the interesting thing:  Nobody knew what the settlement was worth, as Apple did not disclose it in its legal mandated financial filings.  Apple explains this away in that it felt the deal was in the "ordinary course of business" and not necessary to report to shareholders.

But the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) wasn't happy with this response.  It sent a frustrated letter [PDF] to Apple in June asking for the company to share with it the missing information.  It writes:
We note various news articles discussing the patent litigation settlement between Nokia and Apple. Supplementally tell us the amount and terms of such settlement agreement, any amounts accrued, the periods in which they were recognized, and the timeline of the negotiations with Nokia that led to the June settlement agreement. Also, tell us how you considered including a discussion regarding this matter in your MD&A [Management Discussion and Analysis] disclosures and financial statement footnotes, including disclosure of a reasonably possible range of loss in excess of amounts accrued. Further, tell us how considered disclosing this event in a Form 8-K or tell us how you determined that such disclosure was not necessary.

Apple complied filing some information on July 12, but including a "request for confidential treatment for selected portions of this letter."  In doing so Apple fought to keep details of the settlement out of the eyes of the public -- and its Android competitors.

Of course this isn't exactly uncommon in closed-door settlements in legal disputes between major corporations.  Still the SEC, privy to the secret information, apparently felt Apple was holding back.  It wrote [PDF] requesting more information, commenting:
Please describe in further detail the terms, arrangements, obligations and rights associated with the Settlement Agreement and Patent License Agreement entered into between the company and Nokia. Also, describe for us each element of these Agreements (i.e. settlement portion, past usage, future usage, etc.).

Apple fulfilled that request with five pages of non-public confidential information filed on August 1.  On August 17 the SEC acknowledged receiving the document and stated [PDF] that it was satisfactory.  While not ruling out future inquiries against Apple, it now appears to be satisfied that it has sufficient details about the transaction.

As for the public, though, they are unlikely to ever find out what those details are, including how much per handset Apple is paying Nokia.

Sources: MacRumors, SEC [1],, [2],, [3]

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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