Apple Shuts Down Push Email in Germany After Court Order

iPhone users in Germany are short one feature as of Friday now that Apple has disabled push email to comply with a court ruling related to a Motorola Mobility patent infringement lawsuit.

Push is a feature where messages are delivered without users needing to launch their email app. Without the feature, users must either manually check for new messages, or set Mail to auto-check on regular intervals.

German iPhone users lose push email thanks to court rulingGerman iPhone users lose push email thanks to court ruling

A German court ruled that the push email feature that Apple includes with its free iCloud service violates a Motorola Mobility patent that dates back to a time when pagers were common and email was not.

Push has been disabled only for MobileMe and iCloud users in Germany, and doesn’t impact any other features the services offer. All of the MobileMe and iCloud features are still working outside of Germany.

This marks the first time Apple customers have lost device features as a result of a court ruling, and the company is already working to get the court to reverse its stance. Considering how long it can take for an appeal to work its way through the legal system, however, it could be months before German customers get push email back.

In this case, Apple can’t claim that Motorola is abusing patents that are necessary for industry standards since it looks like that these particular patents aren’t considered FRAND, or patents that must be fairly licensed because of their importance to the market. Instead, Apple is claiming Motorola’s pager message patent isn’t valid.

That, too, could be a big hurdle for Apple. “In my experience, Mannheim is a particularly difficult court to persuade of the invalidity of asserted patents,” Florian Muller of Foss Patents said. “The judges there routinely point out that it’s not their job to analyze in full detail whether a patent-in-suit is valid. In particular, they are highly reluctant to question the non-obviousness of a granted patent.”

Apple may be able to get a temporary stay in the court’s ruling, but that could take time, too.

“A German appeals court is willing to stay if it sees a probability above 50 percent of the patent being invalid,” Mr. Muller said. “But it may take Apple a year or so to get to the point at which the appeals court makes this determination.”

Until then, German iPhone users will have to rely on manually checking for new email messages, or set Mail to auto-check.