As is common these days, the patent dispute between Nokia and Apple covers both regular courts as well as the US International Trade Commission. The ITC has the authority to ban imports/sales of infringing products, even though it rarely comes to this; settling is the preferred option.
The ITC staff do not have the final say; they're basically researchers who deliver the materials upon which an ITC judge, in this case Charles Bullock, can base his decision. Nokia and Apple will be able to plea their case before this judge as well, after which he'll come to a decision in February 2011. The judge's ruling will then be subject to review by a six member commission, who will complete their review in June 2011.
"The evidence will not establish a violation" of Apple patent rights, says ITC staff in a pre-hearing memo. The staff states that some of Apple's patent claims are invalid, while the rest is simply not infringed upon.
It is impossible to enter the mobile phone market without infringing upon Nokia's patents. Nokia has an immense patent portfolio on everything from GSM technology to 3G, covering client and infrastructure - a logical consequence from the fact that Nokia pretty much developed all this technology, together with Motorola who is the other major patent player in this business. These are hardware patents, and considering the immense investments required to build the mobile phone network as well spreading the mobile phone to every corner of the world, it is only fair that companies like Nokia get a cut. These isn't vague "putting finger on touchscreen does stuff"-nonsense.
In this industry, it's quite common to have patent cross-licensing deals, and here, I think, is where things went wrong between Nokia and Apple. Nokia probably offered to license its patents, but only in return for some of Apple's patents - else, the price of Nokia's patents would go up. Apple isn't exactly a sharing company, declined, negotiations broke down, Nokia sued Apple, Apple sued back, and now here we are.