Cell Phone Companies Patent Cancer Shields
By Nic Fleming and Ian Cobain
The world’s largest mobile telephone manufacturers have been patenting devices to reduce the risk of brain tumors among users while rejecting claims of any health hazards.
Engineers for the “Big Three” – Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola – have all invented new components to shield users from radiation emissions from the handsets.
One application that Nokia has lodged with the United States Patent Office in Washington, and which has been seen by The Times, notes that “it has been suggested that” continuous exposure to radio frequency irradiation could lead “to a development of malignant tumor”.
The patents show that the manufacturers have been working on radiation-reducing components for at least eight years. The companies maintain that there is no contradiction between their public stance and the existence of the patents.
Scientific opinion is divided. The most recent large-scale study found no links between such phones and cancers, although other studies suggest that there may be health risks.
However, the discovery that manufacturers have apparently “hedged their bets” by applying for patents on irradiation-reducing components has alarmed consumers’ groups and some scientists.
The patents are now to be used in evidence in a series of
Alasdair Philips, of the British consumer watchdog Powerwatch, said: “This is confirmation that the phone companies take the possibility of health problems far more seriously than they say in public.”
The patents also alarmed Dr Alan Preece, a medical physicist at
He said: “I think they are hedging their bets by doing this so that if the evidence does emerge, they have products up their sleeves.”
Christopher Newman, a 42-year-old neurologist, is bringing a £500 million lawsuit against companies including Motorola and Verizon Communications at the
Mr Newman’s lawyer has also recently filed class actions in five states, again naming Verizon and Motorola and others such as Nokia and Ericsson. These seek unspecified punitive damages, money to reimburse people who bought mobile headsets to reduce exposure and free protective headsets for all mobile users.
Cases have been filed on behalf of four more tumour victims. One, Michael Murray, used to test mobiles for Motorola and claims his work caused his two brain tumors.
Manufacturers denied that the patents meant that they accepted the existence of hazards. Michael Westmark, Ericsson spokesman on health, said: “Given the available scientific evidence, there is no link between mobile use and negative health effects” – a view also expressed by Norman Sandler of Motorola.
William Plummer, Nokia vice president said: “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.”
The Times (London) June 11, 2001