Mobile Phone Makers Patent ‘Radiation Shields’ To Combat Brain Cancer Risk

Mobile Phone Makers Patent ‘Radiation Shields’ To Combat Brain Cancer Risk
Wireless NewsFactor
Journalist: Jay Wrolstad
June 11, 2001

Mobile phone manufacturers have patented “radiation shields” to reduce the risk of brain tumors among consumers, despite their claims that phone use presents no serious health hazards, a British newspaper has reported. Although the companies dismissed the report, it could be used as ammunition in lawsuits recently filed by consumers against manufacturers.

According to The Times of London, leading phone makers Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) and Motorola (NYSE: MOT) have created components to protect users from the radio frequency radiation emitted by handsets.

Hedging Their Bets?
Manufacturers have been developing such components for at least eight years, the newspaper said, citing an application filed by Nokia with the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., that states “it has been suggested that” extended exposure to radio frequency radiation could lead “to a development of malignant tumor.” The U.S.-based Wireless Consumer Alliance discovered 25 such patents, the Times said.

Phone makers rejected the claim that the patents indicate that they accept the existence of health hazards.

“Patenting new innovations is a standard practice,” Nokia spokesperson Keith Nowak told Wireless NewsFactor. “Patents are often filed before inventions are ready for commercial use, and others turn out not to be technically viable at all. Therefore, Nokia, like many large technology companies, has an extensive patent portfolio which includes designs and devices which are not currently used in production models.”

Nowak added that Nokia’s products meet emissions safety standards set by government and administrative agencies, so “the fact that Nokia may have alternative means of meeting these standards which have not been incorporated into current complying products is not relevant.”

In addition, Nokia vice president William Plummer told the Times that, “There is no contradiction here. The patents talk of ‘suggestions’ of health risks. A third of our employees are engaged in research and development and it is a natural course of business that they then file for patents.”

No Admission of Guilt
Ericsson spokesperson Robert Elston told Wireless NewsFactor that all Ericsson phones are designed and tested to comply with existing safety standards for radio frequency exposure, which leave wide margins of safety.

“Extensive research over the course of many years has not established any conclusive evidence of a link between adverse health effects and the use of mobile phones meeting those standards and regulations,” Elston said.

Ericsson spokesperson Michael Westmark told Reuters that the patents were designed to improve the performance of mobile phones by reducing the radio waves they use, not specifically to prevent brain tumors, and denied the inventions were an admission that using the company’s phones presented a health hazard.

Although studies by the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine — as well as the National Cancer Institute and a number of international health authorities that have studied the issue — have found no definitive link between cell phone use and health problems such as cancer, scientists acknowledge that more research is needed.

Evidence for Consumer Suits
But others are not convinced and have taken legal action against phone manufacturers, stating the companies knowingly are selling hazardous devices. The report that phone makers have developed radiation-shield technology could be a powerful tool for high-profile attorney Peter G. Angelos, who has filed class-action suits in four states, claiming phone makers are selling products that have been linked to brain cancer and other health-related problems.

Angelos is seeking a judgment that includes requiring all manufacturers to supply headsets at no cost to all purchasers or lessees, or to reimburse any consumer who has purchased a headset, as well as punitive damages. His is one of several lawsuits filed against phone manufacturers in the United States.