Motorola Bests Apple in Patent Skirmish

In an initial determination, International Trade Commission judge Thomas Pender ruled that Apple was violating one of Motorola Mobility’s patents for 3G wireless technology.

Specifically, the ruling cited a patent that was issued to Motorola in 2001 for a “method and system for generating a complex pseudonoise sequence for processing a code division multiple access signal.”

The ITC ruling is a setback for Apple — although these proceedings are hardly over, as the decision must be approved by the all six members of the commission.

Still, it follows an ITC finding earlier this year that Motorola’s Droid smartphones did not violate three of Apple’s patents, as the company claimed. It also negates, to a certain extent, a ruling in Germany that found that Apple was not in violation of this 3G wireless patent.

The news was not all grim for Apple. Motorola claimed Apple was violating four patents, but Pender ruled that the other three were not violated.

Motorola is pleased with the outcome nonetheless, and the company looks forward to the full commission’s ruling in August, it said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by spokesperson Becki Leonard.

Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Looking Good for Motorola Mobility

One reason the ITC is such a popular venue for tech firms warring over patent rights is that the commission can bar the importation of infringing products, Kevin C. Taylor, partner at Schnader Harrison, told the E-Commerce Times. Also, it tends to decide cases relatively quickly.

The decision could also carry weight in other proceedings, Taylor said. “If Motorola Mobility ultimately prevails, it would have a considerable amount of firepower for intellectual property battles with Apple and similar challengers.”

Apple cannot rely on the German court ruling that found it was not in violation of this patent, John Skinner, an attorney with Michelman & Robinson, told the E-Commerce Times. “This is not totally unusual. It is a U.S. patent” — which means it is more easily subject to misinterpretation by the German court.

Perhaps more worrisome to Apple, if the full commission supports this ruling, Skinner said, is that it will be a significant boost for Google, if and when the acquisition of Motorola Mobility is finalized.

“Google has had limited success up until now in the global patent arena,” he pointed out.

Certainly, the ruling must have alleviated a lot of fretting in the Googleplex, Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

One major concern has been that the Motorola patents cited in this proceeding weren’t enforceable, he said.

In general, Google has not been one to believe in patents, Enderle continued, although more recently the company has clearly gotten religion on the subject, with its US$12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility the hallmark of that turnaround.

However, most of the major Android vendors as well as Google itself are now embroiled in this issue, Enderle said.

“Motorola was acquired largely to provide Google with a patent defense, but Motorola had been selling off patents for some time,” he noted, “leaving them appearing like more of a paper tiger.”

A Small Skirmish

It is clear this ruling is just one move in a far larger and bloodier battle between Apple and Motorola/Google.

“I would definitely call it a ‘skirmish,’ and with the ruling being a preliminary one, a minor skirmish at that,” Peter Toren, an attorney with Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, told the E-Commerce Times. “It is an extremely limited decision and still subject to commission review.” “Overall this just means we likely won’t see an end to this litigation anytime soon,” Enderle remarked. “Until the ruling is reviewed and approved there is little impact.”

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