A small creator is being threatened with legal action by Nokia after the company claimed their project, known as Notkia, is “confusingly similar” to a long-discontinued phone made 14 years ago.
The creator, who goes by Reimu NotMoe online, started working on this project in 2019, with the goal of making a portable handheld device with 100 percent free software. It runs Linux, and its components are housed in a Nokia 168x shell—the less popular, but almost as clunky successor to Nokia’s 3310 model.
They’ve been posting about the project and its progress on Hackaday. “The original reason was because the modern smartphones are becoming increasingly hacker-unfriendly and privacy-unfriendly,” NotMoe wrote on Hackaday. They were also becoming bigger and more unwieldy. NotMoe wrote that they tried several other old phone cases, but none quite worked; they settled on the Nokia 168x for its roominess and overall look.
Last week, NotMoe received an emailed notice from the Nokia Corporation, requesting that they immediately remove all references to the name “Notkia” from their posts on Hackaday, and stop using the name for the project altogether. Nokia claimed in the email that the name Notkia is “confusingly similar” to Nokia, and “potentially misleading people into thinking” their creation is an official Nokia product.
“We were indeed surprised,” NotMoe told me, noting that the Nokia was released in 2008, and has long since been discontinued. Nokia has, however, re-released past designs to play on people’s nostalgia for its old devices. It being a much less popular phone than Nokia’s other models, and with its design patents set to expire in almost exactly one year from now, they thought it wouldn’t harm Nokia in any way. “And apparently that wasn’t the case,” they said.
“It appears that they only cared about their ‘Nokia’ brand. But this sounds absurd,” NotMoe said. “First of all, the Notkia is a product designed for the hardware hackers, free software enthusiasts, and people who cares about privacy. It simply won't reach non-techy people, nor they can figure out how to buy, build, and utilize such a device. How can a regular techy person be unable to notice the extra ‘t?’ Apparently the Nokia Corporation is worrying about some random old grandmother accidentally purchasing the Notkia instead of their Nokia, which is highly illogical.”
NotMoe told me they don’t have the time or expertise to fight a multinational corporation like Nokia, so they’re changing the name, and looking for suggestions from fans of the project.
A Nokia spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement: “Use of the Notkia name in relation to phone devices or software is an infringement on the Nokia trademark. We are pleased that [NotMoe] has agreed to change the name and that we have been able to resolve the matter amicably.”
NotMoe said they’re also canceling a planned build that would have repurposed a Nokia E63 shell. But they’re not moving on quietly.
“My opinion is, all companies will become evil as they grow bigger,” NotMoe said. “This is inevitable. It's the nature of humans.” Nintendo’s notoriously vicious about its intellectual property, and spends a lot of time and resources going after small creators, forcing them to rebrand, shut down their projects, risk losing their audience, owe the company millions, or erase years of archival work.
Nokia, historically, has mostly aimed its intellectual property rights complaints at other big companies, like Apple.